Throwing Fuel on the Fire

| December 12, 2008

“You must have taken a whole bottle of stupid pills.”

“Are you nuts?”

“You really need to rethink your position!”

These are but a sampling of the responses to my May Viewpoint column against proposed mandatory fuel surcharges. I maintained that rather than encouraging further federal involvement in trucking, we should let supply and demand shake things out.

I based this premise on two facts: First, even though fuel prices are at record-high levels, trucking failures and truck repossessions are relatively low. Secondly, Overdrive and other third-party research indicates that because most owner-operators are getting fuel surcharges, net revenue has actually increased for many owner-operators.

Overdrive readers are never shy about letting me know what they think. Once again, I was not disappointed:

“Of all the people against the mandated fuel surcharge, many of them don’t pass it on to the person that buys the fuel,” wrote Timothy Barrett Sr. of S&J Transportation Services. “That’s what the fuel surcharge legislation is about – making sure that the person who buys the fuel gets the surcharge.”

“You said, ‘If more owner-operators get forced out of business, that’s not a bad thing,’” said Ray Kasicki. “I thought Overdrive was supposed to be the Voice of the American Trucker. I have never heard a trucker talk like that.”

Some independent business people believe they are in control of their own destinies; others believe it’s up to government to right all wrongs. If there truly is such a need for governmental intrusion, why do I talk to so many owner-operators doing very well in the current economic climate – despite the burden of fuel prices?

The answer is that they refuse to haul for carriers or shippers who don’t pass on 100 percent of fuel surcharges. They take steps to improve fuel economy. They watch their costs closely and change with a changing market.

If the surcharge passes, more owner-operators no doubt will find it easier to keep going, even if they don’t run their businesses wisely. If it doesn’t pass, my money says savvy owner-operators will continue to find ways to not only survive, but to thrive.

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