B.C. owner/operators demand fuel price relief; threaten shutdown of economy

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SURREY, B.C. — Owner/operators in B.C. are agitating to bring the province’s economy to halt unless the government cuts prices at the pump.

Truckers outraged by ballooning fuel costs threatened yesterday to bring B.C.’s economy to a grinding halt unless the government cuts prices at the pumps.

The Vancouver Province newspaper reports that during a raucous meeting of more than 300 unionized and non-unionized truckers in Surrey, there were repeated calls "to shut down the Trans-Canada Highway. We’ve got to shut down the bridges. Pick a week, pick a month — shut Vancouver down.”

B.C. Teamsters president Don McGill told the Province he called the meeting because many of B.C.’s owner/operators are teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. He added that half of the owner-operators on B.C. roads could be forced to park their rigs within six months due to fuel, repair and others costs.

Port Coquitlam driver Dave Cook told the Province the increase in fuel costs means he pays between $1,400 and $1,500 per month to fill up his truck. The same truck cost $750 to fill two years ago.

“We need immediate short-term relief and then work on the long term,” McGill told the Province. “We have an industry in trouble. Government has the ability to quickly pull together all of the stakeholders.”

Among the remedies suggested are exemptions from the GST, PST or a generous share of the federal fuel-tax rebate to municipalities. Others suggested a boycott of fuel companies until they bring prices down.

What was not mentioned is why owner/operators are not benefiting from the fuel surcharges put in place by many carriers. Transportation Media research completed this January indicates that more than 90% of shippers are paying a fuel surcharge.

B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen told the Province he’s willing to meet to discuss the crisis. But he said the government doesn’t set oil prices.

The government, he added, believes it can best help by working on road and bridge infrastructure.

Hansen would also not commit to exempting truckers from the 14.5-cent-a-litre B.C. tax on gas, nor would he agree to subsidize the trucking industry to offset costs.

Another meeting is set for May 1 in Surrey where the truckers expect to formulate a plan of action, the Province reports.

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