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2/12/2003
SPECIAL REPORT: Truckers hit by diesel price spikes

According to figures released by the Energy Department Feb. 10, the national average price of diesel fuel per gallon this week is $1.662 - a 12 cent increase from last week's average price of $1.542.

So one might wonder why diesel prices Feb. 11 in Caribou, ME, are listed in some places at $1.949, a 4-cent increase from Feb. 10 prices; and why the cost went from $1.79 to $1.99 during the same 24-hour period at Little Sandy's Hancock Truck Stop on I-70's exit 3, near Hancock, MD - a 20 cent increase!

Michael Jordan on his best day couldn't jump like that.

So Land Line called Hancock Truck Stop General Manager Woody Liggett to get some answers.

"We got a call from the main office. I can tell you we don't like to see the prices go up like that," Liggett said. "It's not good for business. But they wouldn't have raised the prices unless their supplier also raised prices."

So who is the "they?" In this case, it's Peters Fuel, Oakland, MD.

Company President Louise Friend told Land Line why Hancock's prices went up so much in a day's time.

"We have let prices drag a bit," Friend explained. "I had to change the price to cover my margins. I know people will get mad, but that's just tough."

She said prices at other truckstops were "running neck and neck" with prices at the Hancock stop, so the action was needed to stay competitive.

Friend also explained: "Until war is declared, the (fuel price) situation will get very nervous and real dicey. Even now, prices at the rack (at the terminal where the fuel is loaded onto trucks) are changing several times a day - they go up, then down. When we see a steady downward trend, we'll look at the possibility of lowering prices."

Friend added: "We know we have a big problem with the public's perception. But we're not raising the price independent of what we have to pay. Actually, we hate to post this price."

Friend declined to say what she actually paid the refiner and how the prices compared with earlier costs.

DOT hotline number

Meanwhile, the Department of Energy has a hotline number (1-800-244-3301) where you'll get a live person who wants to know about truckdriver complaints concerning diesel price spikes.

DOE says it wants to know about unjustified pricing, defined as prices that are out of line with other prices in the same area.

After collecting several examples across the country, DOE will evaluate its regulatory options.

There are a number of agencies that have jurisdiction to go after price gougers. Several states have anti-gouging regulations that kick in during national and state emergencies. A great number of states appear to be sensitive to gouging at this time of crisis, and many actively investigate reports.

If your wallet has been victimized, keep your receipts and contact the state attorney general's office. For a list, visit the National Association of Attorney Generals at www.naag.org.

--by Dick Larsen, senior editor

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