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Truckers Snarl Traffic in Protest of Fuel Prices

Independent truckers around the country pulled their rigs off the road and others slowed to a crawl on major highways in a loosely organized protest of high fuel prices.

Trucks on roadway.
AP
Trucks on roadway.

Some truckers, on CB radios and trucking Web sites, had called for a strike Tuesday to protest the high cost of diesel fuel, saying the action might pressure President Bush to stabilize prices by using the nation's oil reserves. But the protests were scattered because major trucking companies were not on board and there did not appear to be any central coordination.

On New Jersey's Turnpike, southbound rigs "as far as the eye can see" were moving at about 20 mph near Newark, said Turnpike Authority spokesman Joe Orlando. Other truckers had gathered at a service area near Newark chanting and protesting.

Outside Chicago, three truck drivers were ticketed for impeding traffic on Interstate 55, driving three abreast at low speeds, said Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Luis Gutierrez.

Near Florida's Port of Tampa, more than 50 tractor-trailer rigs sat idle as their drivers demanded that contractors pay them more to cover their fuel and other costs.

"We can no longer haul their stuff for what they're paying," said David Santiago, 35, a trucker for the past 17 years.

Santiago, like many of the more than 50 truckers gathered on a side street near the Port of Tampa, said he can't support his family on what he makes. "If it wasn't for my wife, we would have been bankrupt already," he said.

Some other truckers, however, didn't join the protests, saying they doubted a strike or mass demonstration would be effective because trucking companies are not on board and there is no central coordination.

"The oil company is the boss, what are we going to be able to do about it?" said Charles Rotenbarger, 49, a trucker from Columbus, Ohio, who was at a truck stop at Baldwin, Fla., about 20 miles west of Jacksonville. "The whole world economy is going to be controlled by the oil companies. There's nothing we can do about it."

Jimmy Lowry, 51, of St. Petersburg, Fla., and others said it costs about $1 a mile to drive one of the big rigs, although some companies are offering as little as 87 cents a mile. Diesel cost $4.03 a gallon at the Baldwin truck stop.

Teamsters union officials said they had nothing to do with any kind of protests. An independent truck drivers group, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said it also was not organizing anything. Federal law prohibits the association from calling for a strike because it is a trade association.

In Washington, meanwhile, top executives of the five biggest U.S. oil companies said Tuesday they know high fuel prices are hurting consumers but deflected any blame and argued their profits -- $123 billion last year -- were in line with other industries.

Rather than joining the protests, some truckers were forced to sit idle because of shippers' fears of a possible strike.

In western Michigan, independent trucker William Gentry had been scheduled to pick up a load and take it to Boston, but his dispatcher told him there was a change of plans.

"She told me that her shipper was shutting down," fearing that someone would sabotage deliveries if their drivers worked during the protest, Gentry said at the Tulip City Truck Stop outside Holland, Mich.

He and Bob Sizemore, 55, a 30-year veteran trucker, decided to return to their homes in Ohio, 280-mile trips that would cost each one about $200 of their own money for fuel alone.

"We can't ride around here looking for freight," said Gentry, 47, a driver for 23 years.

If something isn't done about fuel prices, the cost of consumer goods will shoot up, Gentry said. "People aren't seeing that the more we pay, the more they're going to pay," he said.

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