- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My blood boiled and I mumbled unmentionables as I filled up the tank of my convertible with unleaded regular gasoline and it cost me $3.44 a gallon. However, I refused to fill the tank beyond my $30 budgeted limit, which means less driving for me.

Then I gasped after seeing that diesel fuel was a whopping $4.07 per gallon.

If we think we have “pain at the pump,” just imagine the folks who must use diesel to earn a living. They are really feeling the pinch. Some so much so that their livelihoods are threatened. That unhappy group includes cabdrivers, freight haulers and construction contractors, who transport cargo that makes all of our lives better, as you may or may not notice.

Another friend, who didn’t want to be identified, owns a small business carrying building materials, mainly for road construction. His clients have included larger companies working on projects at the Rockville Town Square, on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and in Waldorf.

But he is seriously considering parking his dump truck after five years because of the high cost of diesel. Even insurance is not as costly at this juncture.

Here is an underreported ripple effect of the slowing economy. This small-business owner is caught in the cross hairs of higher fuel costs and lower demand for subcontractors because everybody is cutting back.

Worse, a small trucker, like my friend, cannot pass on increased costs like a long-distance hauler or fleet operator, who can recoup losses through higher consumer prices.

So goes the economic merry-go-round meltdown. If you are hauling food, you can charge the grocery chain more for business expenses and the grocery store increases the prices of bread, milk and toilet paper. All of which gives you less money to refuel.

But we see no bailout for the small guy while we watch the federal government rescue Wall Street speculators and stockholders.

Economic analysts contend that small businesses are the lifeblood of this country’s economy and that establishment of small businesses will pull us out of this recession.

See the ripples? Trucks haul about 70 percent of all freight tonnage in the U.S., according to the American Trucking Associations. The trucking industry expects to spend $135 billion on diesel this year, up from $112 billion last year, for the 3.5 million truck drivers in the country.

It wasn’t that long ago that some people bought vehicles with diesel engines as a way to cut their transportation costs.

Richard McGhee, director of the cable-television station for D.C. schools, purchased a maroon 1987 Mercedes-Benz 300 SDL, that year specifically because of its fuel efficiency and availability.

The gas shortage of the mid-1970s, when motorists were given even or odd days to line up for the limited supply, persuaded Mr. McGhee to “always own a diesel car in my [automobile] repertoire.”

“There will always be diesel fuel in my driveway because the country runs on diesel,” said Mr. McGhee, who owns a sport utility vehicle and whose wife owns a Honda sedan.

“Oil companies are getting real slick because diesel fuel used to be so much cheaper. But with more people switching to diesel, they are charging much more for a fuel that costs less to make than gas,” he said. “So, they are wearing folks out.”

Oil companies say in one report that the price for diesel is higher because the demand, especially globally, is higher.

When he purchased the Mercedes, Mr. McGhee paid about $2.50 a gallon for diesel while unleaded gas was about 80 cents more. On Friday, he filled up his Mercedes at $3.85 a gallon and then filled up his Isuzu Trooper for $3.40 a gallon for unleaded.

Still, Mr. McGhee notes that he can travel twice as far in the Mercedes, about 500 city miles on one 20-gallon tank, for $77. The SUV will go only 250 miles for about the same amount of money, $68.

For now, he is driving the Mercedes more.

“But when you are talking about filling up 100 gallons for some of these trucks for commercial use, that’s a whole other ballgame, and you have to pass those costs off,” he said.

Or, like my young friend, park your entrepreneurial dreams and try another line of work. That is if you can find another job in this merry-go-round meltdown economy.

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