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Diesel gas prices climb impacting trucking companies, consumers

"If we stopped moving because of fuel prices, the store shelves are going to be empty in a day or two. We have no choice, we have to do it."

TROY, Ill — On Tuesday, the nation hit an all-time record for the average cost of gas at $4.17

For the state of Illinois, it broke its record for the average cost of unleaded gasoline with $4.42. 

Missouri, which is at $3.74, is just 20 cents away from breaking its record.

The stark difference between side-by-side states is because Illinois has the third-highest fuel tax rate in the country. Missouri has the sixth-lowest fuel tax rate in the country.

As for diesel, it's been climbing at an even higher rate than regular gas, which is a huge blow for those who rely heavily on it, such as trucking companies.

At the pump this week, Thomas Miller's truck guzzles gas as his wallet guzzles the cost.

"I fill up twice a week usually and it’s right around 200 gallons every time. You’re looking at a $300 to $400 increase in costs that I have every week, in the last week alone," Miller said. 

The owner and operator is contracted with a company, which uses about 6,000 trucks and 9,000 drivers. 

Driving all around the Midwest, the Alton resident transports goods and it's a job he's been doing for 25 years.

"In the last week alone we’ve seen prices go up 75 cents a gallon in a one-week time frame. I’ve never seen the fuel prices rising this quickly. This is double more than we’ve seen before," he said. 

He notes he felt the pinch back in 2008 but said those rates and increment increases were around .30 cents.

Miller is just one of the thousands of drivers who rely solely on diesel, which has seen an average increase of .60 cents in the last week.

AAA spokesperson Nick Chabarria said, "Diesel prices have risen at a faster rate in the last week and in the last month than regular unleaded gas. There are several reasons why. It's because you’re looking at another market and not just gasoline. When you’re talking about diesel fuel you’re also talking about heating oil. Typically, it'll have more of an impact on those that have two different markets. As long as crude oil prices go up and gas prices will follow up."

For trucking companies, there are no alternative routes.

"If we stopped moving because of fuel prices, the store shelves are going to be empty in a day or two. We have no choice, we have to do it," Miller said.

Trucking industry's impact

Matt Hart with the Illinois Trucking Association said the Illinois nonprofit trade association represents the trucking industry and is a part of the American Trucking Association, which includes all states and 37,000 trucking companies.

He said some trucks have 250-300 gallon tanks and sometimes they have two, which can fuel up to 500 gallons.

Hart said consumers depend heavily on the thousands of trucking companies across the country.

"We transport 70% of the nation’s goods by trucks and if our number one cost goes up, that will lead to higher freight prices, which means higher prices for consumers," Hart points out. 

So this means, if gas prices rise, consumer costs could drive up, too.

"Ultimately at the end of the day, every American citizen is going to pay the cost," Hart said. 

A big reason is that companies can only take the hit for so long and they need to make up for the costs.

Driver shortages

This is in the mix with a driver shortage. 

"Some have a severe shortage. 36% of carriers need a 15% increase in drivers," Hart said. "About 77% of companies have already increased driver pay in January and February."

Hart worries for the smaller trucking operators who may be at risk and face these daunting numbers.

Miller is doing everything he can to keep gas costs down by being strategic and conserving.

"I want to increase fuel mileage," he said. "Plus, I’ll buy 60 gallons here because I can get it 20 cents cheaper down the road. So I get just enough to get there to fill up and so on and so on. You start planning a lot further ahead to get your fuel."

Lows to highs

Chabarria points out the boomerang effect the pandemic has given gas payers in the last two years. 

Two years ago, the United States hit a record low. 

Now, we've hit record highs. This causes those price hikes to hit even harder.

"The impacts from the higher gas prices are going to be felt more because we saw record lows two years ago," Chabarria said.

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