The Carter administration's top consumer advocate yesterday called for a virtual end to federal regulations restricting entry of new companies into the household goods moving business and permiting collective rate-setting by existing movers.
In the Carter administration's first public position on the subject, Esther Peterson told the Senate Commerce Committee that consumer complaints are still growing in the household moving industry, the only form of trucking which involves direct consumer contact with the trucker.
"The symptoms of the problems in this industry are witnessed in the dissatisfaction of its customers," Peterson said. "In 1977, over 21,000 shippers complained to the Interstate Commerce Commission, more than double the number complaining in 1976."
She added that almost half the complaints related to service, a third to claims for loss and damage or delay, and the rest to charges or other problems.
Peterson still favored government regulation over service and cost problems, but said there was no reason to continue ICC regulations that, for example, make it extremely difficult for new companies to enter the business, because of extensive filing requirements that are easily held up by industry challenges.
"I am amazed that in this industry especially, the processes of government are available to carriers to protect their fiefdoms against single applicants seeking to provide additional or improved service to the public," she said.
Peterson also criticized the present system under which truckers set their fees collectively, a system which is exempted from federal antitrust laws.
"We should not have an elaborate government sanctioned system of collective decision making, and federal interference," she said.
The ICC just last week proposed new rules to protect consumers using the household moving industry including one suggestion that movers not be allowed to charge more than the original estimate given before a move. But Peterson said ICC chairman Dan O'Neal's initiatives were not enough.
O'Neal, an advocate of deregulation, told the same committee hearings that "overall compliance with consumer regulations (by the household moving industry) remains unsatisfactory."
The industry is sharply opposed to any deregulation efforts.