Truckers anxious as fuel prices quash profits

| 3/14/2008

Diesel prices continued to shatter records on Friday, March 14, as 16 states are now showing averages at or above $4 a gallon. And while some truckers have reserves to help keep them running a little longer, others, like Dave Martin, are simply out of time.

Martin and his wife, Diane, own Tonka Transport in Foster, RI. He told Land Line on Friday, March 14, he had to shut down his company the day before because he had no money left to operate or even buy fuel. He said he siphoned four gallons of fuel from his big truck Friday morning to put into his pickup truck so he could run errands.

“This was always my dream job. I wanted to become a trucker since I was 8 years old,” Martin said. “I’ve been driving for 24 years and I had always wanted to own, not just my truck, but my own company. In 2003, my dream came true; however, now the dream has turned into a nightmare.”

Martin, who specializes in heavy haul, said he has never taken cheap loads, but in recent months, he said, all he was being offered for his specialty hauling business were the same rates as dry vans.

“I don’t even know what I did wrong,” Martin said. “My wife and I put 70-80 hours per week to make this work. …If I park the truck, we’ll lose our house. If I keep running, I can’t even afford to feed the dog.”

He turned down a broker this morning that wanted him to take a load from Connecticut to Oklahoma for $1,900. That trip alone is around 1,500 miles, he said, but he doesn’t even have the funds to fill up his tanks right now. Where he lives diesel fuel is selling for $4.29 a gallon.

Martin said he came to the realization that he was going to have to shut down while in his workshop on Sunday, March 9.

“I am 46 years old, and I don’t know what I am going to do. … Our checking account is in the red, and there’s no money to buy fuel,” he said. “My wife, who has been completely supportive of this dream, now cries herself to sleep and is having chest pains.”

Martin said he even tried everything to stay in trucking, even leasing on to a company, where he said they got financially “killed,” but that things were no better when he went back out on his own.

“I am one of those who always paid my bills, but now I can’t make it,” he said. “A year ago I was doing good enough to purchase a new truck and trailer; now it looks like that may have to go back, too.”

Wake up, White House
OOIDA member Carol Landberg, office manager of Magann Atlantic, Inc., in Conway, SC, has a message for all truckers who are fed up with the soaring price of diesel fuel: Start pounding the phones – all the way to the White House.

“Drivers need to call their (representatives), their senators and even the White House,” she told Land Line on Friday, March 14. “If the president does not know that the price of fuel is rocketing to $4 a gallon, maybe we can enlighten him and hope that it may do some good.”

The number to the White House’s comment line is (202) 456-1111. If you prefer to send an e-mail message, the address is:

Landberg said her company has 15 owner-operators working for them. She said she got the idea about having a nationwide movement to rally together and protest high fuel prices after hearing one heartbreaking story after another about how the price of fuel is affecting truckers and their families.

“I had one owner-operator, and he had a mobile home, which was taken from him and his family when he couldn’t make his mortgage payments because of fuel prices,” she said. “So now he’s living in a school bus with his wife, daughter and three grandchildren – it’s just heartbreaking.”

She is trying to start a nationwide movement to rally all truckers together to voice their frustration with high fuel prices.

“We need to do something besides lament and wring our hands,” she said. “It is the only way we can rally the country.”

What is OOIDA doing?
OOIDA has received thousands of phone calls and e-mails on the dire situation many truckers are facing out on the road with diesel fuel prices as high as they are now. To read comments from OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston, click here.

Besides working with lawmakers to make them aware of the plight of the economic conditions independent truckers are facing, OOIDA is also working to make mainstream media aware of how fuel prices are affecting independent truckers and the future health of the trucking industry.

The Association has petitioned the Bush administration to immediately cease the diversion of oil supplies to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and instead allow the product to directly enter the marketplace. OOIDA has also asked the Administration to use its authority and influence to ensure the American fuel producers and refiners cease their exports of diesel and biodiesel products to other nations.

To read a new release on the fuel situation issued Friday, March 14, by OOIDA, click here.

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer