Lower diesel price brings joy to the ranks of truck drivers

If drivers are happy about lower fuel prices, truckers and truck-dependent companies are ecstatic.

Along with gasoline, diesel prices have been falling consistently the past month since peaking in mid-July.

The average price per gallon in the Charlotte area Wednesday was $4.399, according to AAA Carolinas and the Oil Information Price Service. That's 9 percent lower than its July 18 pinnacle of $4.837.

The national average Wednesday was 4 cents lower at $4.359.

Diesel is the lifeblood of the nation's commerce system, which relies on trucks and truckers to deliver goods to retail stores.

Trucking companies and independent drivers routinely assess fuel surcharges on their cargo but couldn't raise them fast enough this year to cover the skyrocketing price of diesel.

It has been eating into trucker incomes and company profits. It also translates into higher prices for food and other consumer goods.

Some truckers and companies have been spending more than $1,000 per fill-up and have adopted techniques to conserve, such as installing regulators on trucks that save gas by keeping engine rpm at a minimum. But the strategies, including driving slower, have increased trip times, further taxing drivers because they're usually paid by the mile and have to spend more time on the road for the same money.

American Expediting Co., a Charlotte courier service, contracts with independent truckers who are paid to deliver packages but cover their own diesel costs.

Dispatcher Andrew Preslar said the mood has changed around the shop since prices started falling.

Preslar said a trucker might drive 2,000 miles a week and even a few pennies a gallon add up over time.

“Without drivers, our business wouldn't work,” he said. “Things are happier all around here.”

The price relief is welcomed but relatively minor considering the average price in the Charlotte area is still 50 percent higher than the $2.881 it was a year ago.

The federal Energy Information Administration predicts diesel prices will average $4.18 a gallon nationally for the year and $4.27 next year. The average for 2007 was $2.88.

Gasoline and diesel are refined from oil, which has also been falling in price lately.