Rough road for truckers Expenses soar, revenues slide

By Hugh R. Morley

The Hackensack Record

HACKENSACK, N.J. — For Peggy Mecca, a 30-year veteran of the trucking industry, the future couldn’t be gloomier.

"This is the worst time that I have seen," said Mecca, treasurer of Jersey City, N.J.-based Mecca and Sons Trucking Corp. "You are going to see a lot of companies go out of business because the reward is just not worth it."

Record high diesel fuel prices, toll hikes and the slow economy are making the trucking business more difficult than ever, Mecca and others say.


A 40 percent increase in the cost of a gallon of diesel over the last year, raising the price from $2.87 to $4.06 a gallon, has hit trucking companies just as they are losing revenue, prompting layoffs and predictions of company shutdowns.

Stephen Rush, president of Wharton, N.J.-based Carbon Express Inc., an oil and chemicals delivery company, said he has laid off a half-dozen employees: drivers, maintenance people and administration.

"It’s horrible," said Rush, who now has 47 employees, including 36 drivers. "And it doesn’t seem to be getting any better."

He said his business has suffered most from a decline in motor oil shipments, probably because high gasoline prices have consumers driving less.

About 200 truckers staged a demonstration two weeks ago on the New Jersey Turnpike to highlight the industry’s plight, slowing to a crawl as part of a nationwide protest against diesel prices.

Gail Toth, executive director of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association, said she has heard of owner-operators parking their trucks permanently, refusing to move goods because they can’t make a profit.

"We are in uncharted waters," she said. "We have never seen it this bad before."

To some extent, trucking companies are protected from the diesel price hikes by a government regulation that allows them to put a surcharge on delivery prices when fuel costs rise.


But that relies on customers agreeing to pay the surcharge, and some don’t, owners said. And if they do, Toth said, the extra cost just gets tacked onto the goods being shipped.

"At the end of the day, the fuel charges will be paid and you and me and all the consumers will pay more for the products at the cash register," she said.

Still, some companies said they have so far managed to avoid the worst of the economic slowdown, thanks to the kind of goods they transport.

Robert Zak, manager of Paterson, N.J.-based car delivery company Horseless Carriage Carriers Inc., said business slowed in the first three months of the year but recently has picked up.

One reason, he said, is that much of his business involves moving vehicles for high-income drivers, who are less affected by economic downturns.

Stuart Slovak, vice president of sales for Carlstadt, N.J.-based Shawnee Transportation Inc., said that at his company, "right now, the numbers are consistent with last year’s."

But that’s largely because a big chunk of company revenue comes from delivering annual reports and other financial documents that the federal government requires public companies to circulate — shipments that have to be made regardless of the state of the economy, he said.

Slovak worried that rising costs may soon persuade other clients to stop shipping their goods because the transportation costs make them unprofitable.


Shawnee, for instance, recently added $20 to the cost of a Long Island delivery after authorities added $10 to the trucking toll for group."

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