Chatham County truckers brace for potential diesel price hike

Local trucking industry fears rising costs and lack of government support could force smaller fleets out of business


SILER CITY — Chatham County truckers are on edge with how inflamed conflict in the Middle East, coupled with The U.S. Treasury Department’s recent statement reinforcing Russian oil limits, will impact their businesses.

Many truckers in Chatham County struggled to absorb these costs when average diesel prices were around $5 per gallon last year, and it forced Keith Alston, owner of Alston Transport in North Chatham County, to temporarily stop operating.

“A lot of carriers are already stretched too thin,” said President and CEO of the North Carolina Trucking Association Ben Greenberg. “A long-lasting increase in diesel prices could force more smaller fleets and owner-operators out of the market.”

The potential hike in diesel prices could come during the holiday season, when business often slows down for many in the trucking industry, according to Nicholas Riddle, owner of NR Trucking and Grading in Pittsboro.

This combination of high diesel prices and low demand during the holidays would exacerbate the struggles of local truckers.

In preparation for the price increase, Mitchell Headen, owner of Headen2U Transportation in Siler City, said he’s adding Auxiliary Power Units that will save approximately 200 gallons of fuel a month. All the trucks at David Phillips Trucking in Bear Creek are already equipped with an APU, according to Manager Terry Frazier.

Other than using an APU — which allows the larger, thirstier engine to be turned off when the truck is idling — Headen said there isn’t much truckers can do to prepare for potential diesel increases. Alston noted that there doesn’t seem to be much government support for small trucking companies when diesel prices increase.

Truck company owners often can’t pass any price increases on to their consumers because the trucking market is so tight and competitive, according to Headen. This means that truckers absorb almost all the costs of price increases.

“The trucking industry as a whole, I think we’ve been hit hard,” said Alston. “Everything that you can look around and see, it’s being delivered on a truck, [and] there’s no fuel incentives that are offered to us. It is what it is; you either pay the bill, or you don’t run.”

Greenberg regretfully noted that in the short term, there isn’t much the N.C. Trucking Association can do to support its truckers or help offset increased diesel prices.

In the long run, however, Greenberg said that the N.C. Trucking Association supports efforts to encourage elected officials to act to lower diesel prices. The association primarily encourages lowering diesel prices by increasing domestic production.

“I try not to worry about stuff that we can’t control,” said Frazier. “We just put it in God’s hands and believe that God will take care of us. It’ll be what it’ll be.”