Fuel Surcharges, Shortages Affect Shippingby Patricia R. McCoy
Capital Press, December 14, 2004
Shippers of all commodities face shortages of trucks and railcars at present, and the new rules restricting time behind the wheel for drivers aren’t the problem some believe them to be.
Those remarks came in response to efforts by the Idaho-Eastern Oregon onion industry asking for a waiver of the new drivers’ rules reported in last week’s Capital Press.
“My fuel costs have risen by eight cents a mile or better, to from 15 to 20 cents a mile, since early in the year. Receivers and buyers aren’t paying those costs. Shippers are expected to do so. They try to pass those costs on to consumers, but that isn’t always possible,” said Hank Dalton, an independent trucker based in Ontario, Ore.
“There is a shortage of trucks and railcars, but the new hours of service rules aren’t the cause,” said Dalton, who hauls both produce and livestock.
Bruce Petersen, customer service representative for Cargo Express, a Treasure Valley-based trucking company, agreed.
“The onion industry is having a rough time because they have a bumper crop to market, and prices are down. Trucks are short because diesel fuel prices are up, at $2.50 a gallon. That’s cut back on the number of shippers. There is an extreme shortage of carriers,” Petersen said.
As a carrier, Cargo Express is having dealings with shippers this year they never had before. Most are paying a fuel surcharge that is being passed on ultimately to consumers, he said.
“Some shippers can’t pay it, or refuse to do so. They’re having a hard time competing for what trucks are out there, and suffering because they can’t compete. The blunt truth is, the trucks are going to the highest paying shippers,” he said.
“For the first time in my experience, we’re even being paid in some cases to bring empty trucks in here. If you’d told our company six months ago this would have happened, we never would have believed it,” Petersen said.
The new hours-of-service rules allow drivers to drive 11 hours a day, which they must accomplish within 14 hours. They must then have 10 hours of rest. Before, drivers could work for up to 16 hours. They were allowed only eight hours of rest between driving stints, he said.
“For a refrigerated, cross-country carrier like us, those rules have made no difference at all. Their intention was to help drivers by giving them more time to rest. Having a full 10 hours of down time gives them time to eat, shower and relax before they sleep. Before, they had only eight hours in which to do all of that,” Petersen said.
“My personal opinion is that it’s actually increased driver productivity and efficiency,” he said.
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