As fuel costs rise, truckers say they’re running on empty

A year ago, Gloversville truck driver Paul Looman spent about $850 a week on fuel. Today, he’s spend
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A year ago, Gloversville truck driver Paul Looman spent about $850 a week on fuel.

Today, he’s spending about $1,600 a week.

Looman delivers refrigerated food, and he used to earn between $35,000 and $40,000 a year. Now, he’s making about $13,000.

“That’s a hell of a drop in income,” Looman said Thursday.

About two dozen truckers joined state legislators at the Superstop filling station and described how close many of them are to going out of business.

Diesel fuel on the East Coast costs about $4.12 per gallon this week — $1.26 more than it cost this time last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Diesel fuel prices hit $2 per gallon in 2005, then rose steadily ever since, according to the EIA.

Looman said he wished truckers had organized earlier to publicize their situation. He said he has already exhausted his savings.

“We’ve used up our safety net. We’re at the point of desperation,” Looman said.

The truckers gathered for a forum coordinated by state Assemblymen Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, and George Amedore, R-Rotterdam.

Both legislators said they wanted to give these truckers a venue to be heard while they try to build coalitions in the state Legislature to approve laws that might help reduce the cost of trucking.

There are more subtle signs of how dire the situation is, said trucker Bill Sutton of Batavia, who delivers building materials.

Sutton said about 2,500 rigs are re-possessed weekly because truckers can’t afford to pay for them. He urges people to take a look at the large truck garages that fix tractor-trailers.

Many of the trucks sitting in those repair lots aren’t waiting to be fixed, Sutton said. Repairs have been made, he said, but truckers are unable to pay for the repairs.

The bulk of truckers attending the rally Thursday represented independent owner-operators, smaller businesses that can’t buy massive amounts of fuel ahead of time.

Independent truckers represent about 9 percent of the estimated 3.4 million truckers in the United States.

Prior to the current fuel price spike, they earned roughly $39,000 a year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s bureau of labor statistics.

Eric Eriksen, a representative of Greene Trucking in Amsterdam, which hauls area farmers’ milk, said the company has no choice but to add a fuel surcharge onto its bills, and that surcharge is paid by dairy farmers.

“It’s putting a heck of a burden on the farms,” Eriksen said.

Greene Trucking picks up the milk from about 500 dairy farms in Vermont and New York and brings it primarily to New York City.

Eriksen said taxes and tolls in New York State cost $205 to bring a load of milk downstate. And that doesn’t count the cost of fuel, which is about $518.60 per trip, he said.

“It’s unbelievable. We operate on a 2 percent margin,” Eriksen said.

Eriksen described the impact the fuel surcharge has had on farmers during the past year.

In one year, farmers, through a surcharge, will spend about $2.24 million on taxes and tolls that go to the State of New York, Eriksen said.

National trucking organizations point to several possible solutions on the federal level, such as exploring more areas to find oil to boost domestic supplies.

At the state level, Lopez said, reducing the tax burden is one important step he hopes will gain momentum in the state Legislature.

Lopez is sponsoring a bill to eliminate state motor fuel taxes, petroleum business taxes and other taxes on biodiesel products. The bill would also allow localities to eliminate sales tax on fuels as well.

Truck stop owner Vincent Gramuglia said he’s seeing the impact of higher diesel prices, in part caused by state taxes, at the five truck stops and one gas station he owns in the region.

“Right now, we are hurting,” Gramuglia said.

Gramuglia said more truckers are filling up at his area fueling stations with only enough diesel to reach New Jersey, where the cost is dramatically lower and where they fill their tanks.

Looman said the real impact of higher hauling costs has yet to catch up with consumers. Diesel costs have risen dramatically, but retailers and other merchants trying to hold the line haven’t reflected the true costs, he said. The prices people are currently paying for food and clothing are based on deliveries when diesel costs were about $3 per gallon, not the current $4 plus per gallon, Looman contends.

“Wait until the fall,” Looman said.

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