Gas prices hit haulers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 4, 2001

Trucker Rodney Spooner of Hartland will return to Minnesota today after a long drive home from California.

Tuesday, September 04, 2001

Trucker Rodney Spooner of Hartland will return to Minnesota today after a long drive home from California. But as he approaches his hometown, Spooner said he notices the prices getting higher and higher.

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It’s a trend he doesn’t understand.

&uot;Prices were quite a bit cheaper in California this last week than they were in Minnesota – as much as 60 cents in some places. I’ve never seen that before – ever,&uot; Spooner said. &uot;It’s unheard of to find cheap fuel in California where the gas taxes are sky high.&uot;

With prices in the Midwest around $1.65 for diesel (or as high as $1.90 for regular unleaded), Spooner avoids buying any fuel in the state. Instead, he prefers to fill up further west and south, relying on reserves until he leaves the state again for his next run.

&uot;It’s just one of the things I have to do to cut costs,&uot; Spooner said. &uot;Drivers are quitting every day, and I’m just hoping to hang in there until we see the prices stabilize for awhile.&uot;

Spooner hauls California produce back to the Midwest in refrigerated trailers. The unpredictable fuel prices make it difficult to budget for expenses such as equipment upgrades.

&uot;I should have bought a new trailer this year, but I decided not to because it felt too risky. Somebody needs to regulate these oil companies,&uot; he said.

Though Spooner has the option of adding fuel surcharges to his hauling bills, many companies refuse to pay them.

&uot;People say we can pass on the fuel costs to our customers, but it doesn’t really work that way. We may be able to recoup some of the costs, but not everything,&uot; he said.

Steve Jannings, chief operating officer for Albert Lea Bus Company (ALBC), feels the same way about fuel surcharges. He’s trying to avoid them as long as the company can afford to. He prefers to wait until prices stabilize, if it ever happens.

&uot;Fuel is totally unpredictable right now. We’re completely at the whim of big oil companies who manipulate the prices,&uot; Jannings said.

ALBC buys about 7,000 gallons of #2 diesel every three weeks. Rarely has Jannings known what to expect when it’s time to make the purchase.

&uot;We’re like anyone who works in transportation. There’s not a lot we can do except try to get used to the spikes in the prices,&uot; he said.

The timing of the latest price spike is tough for the company, Jannings said, because fuel consumption increases dramatically as the school year begins.

&uot;It’s a persistent problem, but to have prices so high just before school is enormously challenging. But, then again, who knows what the prices will be next week,&uot; he said.

U.S. Congressman Gil Gutknecht pledged last week to look into the high prices in the Midwest. Oil company officials say a fire at a Citgo refinery in Lemont, Ill. caused a supply disruption that drove the prices up.

But Gutknecht thinks a 40-cent jump in gas prices over a matter of days is suspicious, especially considering it directly proceeded a travel-filled holiday weekend.

&uot;This spike made Labor Day travel difficult and raises concerns over possible price gouging,&uot; he said.

Gutknecht is asking Secretary of Commerce Donald L. Evans and Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham to investigate the rapid increase in prices.