(KEY OFF)(KEYWORD) staff report by the Interstate Commerce Commission warns that the independent owner-operator is being squeezed out of the trucking business by unjust lease agreements with the major common carries.

The 37-page report, released yesterday, was prepared by the ICC's Burear of Operations based on detailed interviews with 64 trucking companies.

"The great rise in owner-operator expenses for such items as fuel, maintenance of equiment and purchase of new equipment over the past few years," the study said," "has not been reflected in a matching in a matching rise either in the rate structure, or in the percent of revenue paid by the carrier to the lessor.

"It appears that some of the carriers who handle low-rated interests in raising either the traffic rate, the percentage of redvenue paid to the owner-operator, or in assuming some of the transportation costs they now place on the owner-operator."

Those trucking companies that have tried to raise rates for owner-operators, the report noted, have met stiff opposition from "shipper interests." But unless the leasing arrangement between truck companies and the owner-operators is improved, the report concluded that the owner-operator trucker will disappear from the industry.

The survey further indicated distinct differences in the way owner-operators are treated by varying types of trucking companies. They are treated best by bulk and tank trucking companies, followed by general commodities carriers and household other hand, the report said. On the other hand, refrigerated carriers, heavy haulers and iron and steel haulers give the worst treatment, according to the report.

The study found little evidence of skimming, the practice by which a carrier pays an owner-operator less than the agreed-upon percentage without the the owner-operator's knowledge, using fictitious rate quotations or fictitious freight bills.

But in its report, the ICC staff noted the carrier "has available to it numerous methods for deducting portion of revenues from owner-operators which may make more crude methods employed in skimming unnecessary."

The other methods involve insurance settlements, various forms of transportation taxes, escrow funds and sales from company fuel pumps and lease of trailers.