gall and gumption

Monday, April 28, 2008

Who Pays?

This morning at 9 a.m. a convoy of truckers will arrive in front of the Capitol to protest fuel prices. Last night on NBC news I heard the local reporter say that about 300 were estimated to be arriving.

It should make an impressive display, even though 300 truck drivers isn’t very many. I suspect that many more truckers, all over the country, will simply turn their trucks in. One of those is my brother.

My brother lives in New Mexico and he’s worked as a long haul trucker for about four years. On his last long run he drove to Boston, New York, North Carolina, before returning west to do some more runs out there. In that one week he drove something like 100 hours. The company pays my brother by the mile, and operating costs such as fuel are deducted from his paycheck. And when his truck payment, maintenance and fuel costs were all added up after that long, long run, he ended up owing a couple hundred dollars. Until a few months ago my brother was making a reasonable living driving his truck. There were other reasons my brother needed to give up the truck, but before those reasons came along in the last two weeks, it was becoming impossible.

If my brother had been able to continue trucking, he would have finished paying off his truck in two years or so. The company he drives for is based in Denver, and the owner has been good to my brother, because my brother is so reliable, smart, and so completely not a hassle to deal with. So this isn’t a case of someone having been mean to him. The impact of this thing has hit the owner-operators first. It will be interesting to see how the companies respond.

The cost of diesel has more than doubled in the last year. Here in Virginia it is selling for over $4 a gallon. Remember when diesel was the cheap fuel? So what I see is a whole industry, critical to the consumer and to business, that absolutely depends for its functioning not on fuel, but specifically on cheap fuel. When the cost of fuel puts the driver into debt to basically his employer, you have a business relationship that is just unsustainable, even in the very short term. The owner-operator starts to look less like an independent business owner and more like a fuel peon, owing more and more to the company gas station every week. Before they go down that road, a lot of drivers, like my brother, will turn their trucks back in. What would be their incentive to stay?

My brother quite likes driving a truck; however, he can’t afford to pay to keep trucking companies in the style to which they are accustomed. Someone will have to bear the increased cost. Right now, among owner-operators, it’s basically the truckers. And they can’t do it. Not "won't." Can't.


At 6:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has American truckers' situations become so bad that they contract out to Halliburton to drive through Iraqi war zones? Yes.

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