Friday, March 14, 2008

Truckers pull in to record prices at the pump

Bangor Daily

By Anne Ravana
Friday, March 14, 2008

HERMON, Maine - Truck driver Charlie Gaspers saw diesel fuel rise to $4 per gallon for the first time in his career in Newburgh, N.Y., Wednesday. By the time he pulled into Dysart's Truck Stop Thursday afternoon, the price was $4.03 and rising. By Thursday evening, it was $4.15.

"I’m worried. I’m worried about my livelihood," Gaspers, 45, said. A long-haul independent driver, Gaspers traveled from his home in Clear Lake, Minn., to Rockland to deliver a load of flowers, fruit trees and shrubs. In four days, he had spent $2,387.78 on fuel and he will have to earn at least $7,200 this week in order to make a profit, he said.

In Maine, diesel prices rose to $4 per gallon Tuesday, further reducing the profits of those who drive diesel-dependent vehicles for a living. The federal Energy Information Administration said the reasons for the increase are the rapid rise in the price of light, sweet crude oil, the high demand for oil during the winter months and the increasing demand worldwide for diesel fuel.

"Each dollar increase in the price of crude oil increases the price of gasoline and diesel by about 2.4 cents per gallon," said Tancred Lidderdale, a senior economist with the EIA, Thursday.

The lunchtime crowd of independent truckers at Dysart’s on Thursday afternoon offered a variety of comments on the price increase. Almost everyone said they are watching their revenues diminish.

To the Energy Information Administration’s list of reasons for the price increase, Jeff Jones, an owner-operator from Newmarket, N.H., added last year’s switch to a more expensive ultra low-sulfur diesel.

"I used to get five miles to the gallon. Since we went to this low-sulfur fuel, I get about four," Jones said. "My emissions are cleaner, but I’m burning more fuel. The only people that are really making out are the oil companies."

With his heavy loads of mulch, dirt and wood chips, he said it costs him about $1 per mile to drive his teal 2005 Western Star.

Many truckers have increased the rates they charge per mile to compensate for more expensive diesel, said Barry Hollis, 46, an owner-operator from Sanford. Hollis hauls ocean kayaks, raisins and pharmaceutical additives. His surcharges are being passed directly to the consumer, he said.

"How long can this economy, the American consumer and the American family afford to pay these rates?" Hollis asked.

Hollis recently completed a 16-day coast-to-coast cross-country drive, during which he spent $5,700 on fuel, tolls and insurance. His gross income from the trip, before taxes, was close to $10,000, but Hollis said additional, unforeseen expenses on his truck are constant.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins acknowledged Thursday the rapidly increasing prices of diesel fuel, home heating oil, gasoline and other products refined from oil and their burden on truckers, families and small businesses. She and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., introduced a bipartisan amendment to eliminate tax subsidies to large oil and gas companies. The amendment will be part of the federal budget being considered in the Senate.

While some independent truckers are choosing to stay off the roads with the hope the price of diesel fuel will drop, Gaspers, the independent trucker from Minnesota, said he likely will work about 320 days this year. He has to support his wife and five children, two of whom are in college.

"You just have to stay busy all the time," he said.

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