By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
A caravan of horn-honking truck drivers rolled their rigs through Washington yesterday, protesting rising gasoline costs and demanding that Congress impose caps on prices at the pump.
The truckers, who formed a long column, circled the Mall about noon and blared their horns. Some spectators waved while others covered their ears.
"The high price for oil is hurting our economy," said Mark Kirsch, a trucker from Myerstown, Pa., who helped organize the rally. "It's hurting middle-class people."
A spokesman for Truckers and Citizens United, which sponsored the demonstration, said 200 to 250 trucks showed up, about half of what the group had predicted.
The District Department of Transportation, which said 100 to 125 trucks participated, reported no traffic problems.
Fuel costs have soared across the country, with the average price for regular gasoline exceeding $3.50 per gallon in most states, according to a survey posted on AAA's Web site yesterday.
In every state, the average price of diesel fuel was more than $4 a gallon. Diesel fuel cost $4.35 a gallon in the District, $4.30 in Maryland and $4.10 in Virginia, according to the survey. Diesel costs were highest in New York, averaging $4.59 a gallon.
Bill Carroll, 33, a trucker who drove from Pennsylvania for the demonstration, said his savings have plummeted because he was spending $1,700 a week on fuel.
"The hauling rates can't compensate for what I'm putting out," said Carroll, of Jonestown, Pa. "You have to stay out on the road an extra week at a time, so you can make enough money to bring home."
John Bowers, 59, a trucker from Harrisburg, Pa., said his earnings have dropped 25 to 30 percent. "How can you feel good?" he said. "You're working the same number of hours for less money."
The caravan's organizers had expected to arrive in Washington at 9 a.m., but traffic and an accident caused a three-hour delay.
After circling the Mall, the truckers drove to RFK Stadium, parked their rigs and walked to the Capitol.
Demonstrators held signs, some of which read "Higher Fuel Means Higher Everything" and "No Gas, No Soccer: What Comes First? Kids or Gas?" When their leaders demanded governmental intervention, the truckers chanted "Now! Now!"
The truckers had planned to rally outside the Capitol, but rain forced them into the lobby of the Russell Senate Office Building, where they held a news conference. Fifteen truckers met with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine.)
William Lockridge of the Washington Metropolitan Area Truckers Association compared the potential magnitude of rising fuel costs to the mortgage crisis.
Without congressional action, he said, "The whole economy of the country is in danger."
At the rally's end, Leroy Yohn, 50, a trucker from Hershey, Pa., stood outside, his hair and clothing soaked, holding an American flag. He said he would make the drive back to Washington as many times as it takes to get relief.
"Nothing gets done sitting at home," he said. "We have to make these people understand."
The group plans to demonstrate in New York on Thursday.