Truckers feel pain of rising fuel costs
By Christina Killion Valdez
As truckers across the country planned to strike this week to protest the high cost of fuel, truckers in southeastern Minnesota kept on trucking in spite of rising gas prices and the start of Minnesota’s increased gas tax.
"Here in southern Minnesota, there’s nothing of any kind of slowdown or anything," said Kermit Watts, owner of Austin Auto Truck Plaza. "Everything seems to be as normal."
Many independent truckers parked their rigs, and others slowed to a crawl on highways to protest high fuel prices. The demonstrations were only scattered, but long lines of trucks were moving about 20 mph on the New Jersey Turnpike, and three drivers were ticketed for impeding traffic on Interstate 55 outside Chicago, driving three abreast at low speeds.
The lines at the pumps at the Cannon Ball Truck Stop in Cannon Falls were slow Tuesday morning, but manager Heather Benson said she wasn’t sure if that was because of the weather, since a winter storm was just trailing off; because of the gas tax increase; or because it was Tuesday — a typically a slow day.
The biggest difference is that filling up is costing more.
On average, to fill one of his 300-gallon tanks, Paul Novotny, an owner of Chatfield Trucking Inc., spends $1,200. That’s compared to about $580 a year and a half ago. Back then, diesel was $1.80 a gallon, he said. Now the price of diesel is hovering around $3.95 a gallon.
While his company can pass most of the cost onto customers, it also has to absorb some, he said.
"There’s no good solution. We can’t pass it all on," he said.
Still, he isn’t concerned that the increased gas tax will affect that. "Nobody is taking into account the gas tax; that’s not really showing up," he said.
Tuesday marked the first increase in the gas tax as part of the Legislature’s transportation bill passed in February over Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto. The tax went into effect Tuesday, increasing the cost of a gallon of gas by two cents; the tax will increase the price by a total of 8 1⁄2 cents by 2012. The tax was passed to pay part of the cost of road and bridge construction.
Minnesota still doesn’t have the highest gas tax in the country, but Novotny, whose company runs a variety of trucks across the country including refrigerated and freezer trucks that take extra fuel for cooling, added, "But we’re getting there."
"I don’t think we’ll ever see $1.50 fuel again with taxes about 50 cents a gallon," he said.
That affects everyone’s bottom line.
"I pay for it in the store just like you do," Novotny said. "Everything is up. There is no good solution."