President Carter signed into law yesterday a bill designed to increase competition in the household goods moving industry and to establish procedures for the settlement of shippers' disputes with moving companies.
The household moving industry was affected by the trucking deregulation measure signed into law during the summer by provisions that made entry to the industry easier, restricted the companies' collective rate-setting powers and granted companies pricing flexibility. The bill Carter signed yesterday goes beyond it to address the difficulties consumers often encounter in the one instance when they deal directly with the trucking industry -- when they move.
The bill attempts to make sure the consumer has better information in selecting moving companies. It also reduces regulation to allow movers more flexibility in offering different price and service options and sets up effective remedies for poor services.
The new law establishes minimum standards for movers to make informal settlement procedures for resolving shipper disputes. It also gives a consumer the right to collect attorneys'fees if successful against a company that fails to set up an approved consumer program. The law also reaffirms the authority of the Interstate Commerce Commission to issue regulations to protect individual house hold goods shippers.
In seeking to encourage competition in the industry, the law gives the movers new operating flexibility, making clear that it is legal for them to offer consumers binding estimates that the company will stick to.
The law also will allow a mover to charge for an estimate if the charge is disclosed ahead of time, if the estimate will be in writing and binding and if the charge offered has been set independently, outside the industry's collective rate-setting mechanism. Since an estimate is a critical element in the consumer's decision-making process in choosing one carrier over another, this provision -- if the movers take advantage of it -- should offer consumers competitively set pricing options, an administration aide explained.