Officials of the Transportation and Agriculture departments said yesterday that they could find no evidence of major problems for shippers or buyers as the independent truckers' strike entered its second week.
Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole, only hours after being sworn in, said in a statement that "there has been no widespread disruption of commerce nationally" in the strike, which was called to protest increases in diesel fuel and other truck taxes.
Violent incidents accompanying the strike have decreased markedly, she said, and DOT "will continue to be available to work with responsible representatives of the trucking industry" to discuss problems and seek solutions.
Asked if that included Mike Parkhurst, founder and president of the Independent Truckers Association and the man who called the strike, DOT spokesman Tom Blank said: "We do not expect Secretary Dole will be meeting with Mr. Parkhurst in the foreseeable future."
Dole's assessment of the impact of the strike and those of other federal officials were based on traffic counts and checks with produce markets across the nation.
Bill Martin, a spokesman for the Independent Truckers Association, said the strike "is not a failure" and that federal traffic checkers "believe in the Easter Bunny, too. For a normal transportation situation, I think they're awfully upset."
Parkhurst was not available for comment. He spent the weekend addressing truckers in Omaha, and said on Phil Donahue's television show yesterday that the federal government was planting false reports to "break the back of the independent truckers."
The ITA claims a membership of 30,000 of the nation's 100,000 long-haul independent truckers. The independents own and operate their own rigs and haul about 90 percent of the nation's fresh fruit and vegetables. Parkhurst claimed when the strike started Jan. 31 that "98 percent" of the 100,000 would shut down and that the effects would be felt within four or five days.
Precise counts are not available, but it is clear that far fewer than 98,000 independents have parked their trucks. Yesterday, Jarrell's Truck Plaza on Interstate 95 north of Richmond reported it had pumped more diesel fuel than usual over a 36-hour weekend period and that fuel sales yesterday were about normal despite a snowstorm.
In Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the violence has been heaviest, truck traffic was running 80 to 82 percent of normal, according to officials in those states. Police patrols remained heavy in many states. Some states were escorting trucks in convoys.
Since the strike began, there have been more than 578 shootings and 1,715 other incidents of violence and vandalism, resulting in one death, 89 injuries and 123 arrests, according to United Press International.
The strike has resulted in a major shift in transportation patterns. There were even stronger indications yesterday that many shippers had switched from truck to rail: 1,000 piggyback rail cars, which are designed to carry two truck trailers long distances between terminals, were pulled out of storage and sent for use on western railroads.
Marvin Fitzpatrick, director of the Agriculture Department's office of transportation, said, "We feel there is an adequate supply of trucks and minimal delys in delivering perishables." A problem reported last week in New York City, he said, was not repeating itself. Deliveries at the Hunt's Point terminal there were down about 9 percent from last Monday, when there was some stockpiling.