Truckers pass costs to their customers to help the drivers

February 20, 2000

Peter Creager III, owner of Atlantic Nationwide Trucking Inc. in Canton, is not about to let his company or his 25 drivers -- independent operators who pay for their fuel -- take a hit because of high diesel prices. When costs rise, he passes it on to his customers.

"If I didn't react, [the drivers] would constantly eat that," he said. "The only way of them getting an increase is through me."

Three-fourths of his business comes from domestic transport, taking goods such as paper products or machinery from a manufacturer to a distribution center or retailer.

Another 25 percent of his business comes from thc port of Baltimore, which, like many ports across the country, has been hit in recent months with slowdowns by truckers who say they are concerned about low wages, slow traffic in and out of the ports and rising fuel prices.

Creager, 45, said the company generally figures diesel costs at $1.06 a gallon.

He'll let it reach $1.16 with no extra charge. But since Feb. 1, for every 5-cent rise in the price of diesel, he adds a 1 percent surcharge.

It is applied only to the hauling fee, not to the cost of loading and unloading trucks.

Diesel fuel averaged $175 a gallon in Maryland this month, up from $1.08 a year ago, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Some areas of the state have higher prices than others.

Creager said Atlantic drivers were paying nearly $2 a gallon last week, and he was charging customers a 15 percent surcharge.

When diesel prices dropped to $1.82 per gallon, he lowered the charge to 12 percent.

Atlantic drivers typically gross about $1,800 a week and travel about 300 miles, Creager said.

The trucks get about 4.5 miles a gallon; an increase of 67 cents takes about.S45 out of a trucker's pocket each week.

Some trucking companies, he said, try to avoid a surcharge or keep it lower than the increase in fuel costs to attract business.

However, he pointed out, that can backfire when drivers refuse to work without being compensated for higher fuel costs.

Joseph Neenan, director of safety for Baltimore International Warehousing and Transportation, said independent drivers there were refusing to work several weeks ago.

"That hurt us," Neenan said 'It's not good for our business, our customers or the economy. We could be delivering to Ace Hardware, and something you may want to buy is not there because we can't get it there."

Eventually the company, added a surcharge, he said, and the drivers went back to work.

Creager, of Atlantic, said that although his fuel surcharge might be a bit higher than that of his competitors, he's seen an increase in business because his drivers are still willing to hit the road.

"What I'm darn unhappy about," he said, "is that I didn't buy oil futures."

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