Whether you're moving to Paris, France or Paris, Va., the choice of a shipper can often mean the difference between your suit of armor arriving in battle shape or in a heap of scrap metal.
Nearly 18 per cent of the population of this country changes residence each year. Approximately 13.5 million households moved less than 50 miles or to a new home in the same state last year. Another 1.2 million families moved to another state.
To move this army, there are some 12,000 moving and storage companies, most of them rather small. In the early 1970s complaints against these carries - about lost and damaged goods, late deliveries and overcharges, false weights and unpaid claims - prompted the Interstate Commerce Commission to crack down. At the same time, the agency sought to educate the public about its rights and about what the government could and could not do by requiring interstate carriers to furnish customers with an ICC booklet.
Among the points it contains:
A mover is not required to furnish a written estimate. Even if he does, it is not binding. However, if an estimate has been made in advance and the mover demands on moving day that the entire price be paid in cash or certified check before he will unload the truck, you don't have to borrow from your new neighbors. You are only required to pay the estimate plus 10 per cent on the spot. You have 15 working days to make up the rest.
Movers are not liable for the full value of lost or damaged goods unless you pay an additional charge for such protection. Protection of up to 60 cents a pound is all you get free. For a full reimbursement, you must declare a lump sum value and pay an extra charge of 50 cents per $100 of value.
In the event of damage the mover has the choice of paying the actual value of the article, less depreciation, or restoring it to its condition at the time it was loaded. If you are shipping a precious antique, you might be very unhappy if he chose to glue it back together rather than reimburse you. So be sure this is decided in advance.
You can save money by doing your own packing. The mover charges a fee for the containers, packing, unpacking, according to the time involved. This should be made clear on the estimate.
The ICC requires a mover to answer a claim within 30 days, and its offices will see that he does. However, the ICC has no power to determine the amount of damages that should be paid, or even if the mover should be obliged to pay.
How have these reforms and the public education campaign improved service? Statistically, the picture looks better.
In 1975 the Council of Better Busi ness Bureaus found that 1.1 per cent of all its complaints concerned movers. In the first three quarters of 1976, that figure dropped to 0.81 per cent.
The number of the oral and written complaints received by the ICC remains in the neighborhood of 12,000 annually dispite increases in population and, in some years, moves. The telephone number for the ICC hotline in Washington is 275-7852. For the rest of the country, it is (800) 424-9312.
Back in 1971, two out of three person who responded to an ICC questionnarire distributed by movers replied they were dissatisfied with their moves. During the first six months of 1975, 44 per cent said they were satisfied; and in the first six months of 1976, that figure increased to 54 per cent. Of course, the number of respondondents constitutes a very small sample of those who moved during the year. Also, complainants always write more frequently than those who are satisfied. So it is likely that far more people were really satisfied with their moves than took the time to write. Consumers Union, a non-profit organization that publisher Consumer Reports magazine, has estimated that three out of four are satisfied.
ICC records of criminal prosecutions and civil actions resulting in suspension against moving companies show that violations have tapered off since 1968. That year before the crackdown started, there were nine actions. In both 1972 and 1973 there were 29 cases; by 1976 there were only seven.
Judgements were obtained against American Van & Storage, White Transfer Van Lines, Imperial Van Lines, Paramount Moving and Storage Co., and George W. Stone of Jacksonville, Fla., who did business as All American Van & Storage, All-American and Stone's Moving and Storage. The fines, for violations such as failure to show net weight of the vehicle or give notification from $250 to $4,500.
Since 1974, movers have been required to file performance records with the ICC and to send these to customers as well. According to government figures based on these reports, service improved in 1975 over 1974 (1976 records will not be available until March) in pickup and delivery schedules, and the number of days required to settle a claim. The percentage of shipments that arrived more than 5 days later than specified decreased by more than half to 4.47.
On the negative side, there were slighty more damage claims of over $50 filed. But the biggest change came in the underestimation of charges. In 1974 just over one in five shipments were underestimated by 10 per cent or more. In 1975 one in four were low by 10 per cent or more.
The ICC does not recommend or rate movers. Yet the performance records companies must file with the commission form the basis for the ratings.
In 1975 Consumers Union rated 21 of the largest U.S. interstate carriers. Those considered above average were Bekins, Engel, King and Republic. The consumers organization was careful to note that not all companies did equally well in each of the five categories: underestimates, pickup delays, delivery delays, damage claims over $50, and average settlement time. Engle, for example, did well in the first four, but was among the slowest in settling. Burnham, rated below average, had one of the worst records for pickups and deliveries but settled claims quickly.
Based on the same information for 1975, The Washington Post has done a similar rating. The carriers with the best estimate records were Trans-American, Pan American and Neptune World Wide Moving. Those that underestimated by more than 10 per cent the most often were National, Greyhound (Smyth), and John J. Ivory Storage.
Those picking up household goods with the least delay beyond agreed times were Neptune, Atlas and Wheaton. The tardiest were Trans-American, Greyhound and J. Ivory.
The fewest late deliveries were made by Neptune, Bekins and United. The most came from National, J. Ivory, and Trans-American.
Damage claims of more than $50 were filed the least often with J. Ivory, Trans-American, Neptune and King. The worst records were posted by American Red Ball, Fernstrom Storage and Van and Pan American.
The quickest claim settlements were made by J. Ivory, Burnham and United. The slowest by Transt-American, Engel and King.
It is interesting to note that J. Ivory appears in each listing, that while it had a good claim record, its schedule and estimate records were poor. Trans-American, on the other hand, was often late in shipping and settling claims, but it had relatively few big claims and its estimates were on target often.
Adding each of the five categories gave an average composite score of 89.9 points. (There was no attempt to weight the factors.) On that basis, the companies that scored more than 10 points above the composite average were Neptune, Burnham, United and Fernstrom. Those that scored more than 10 points below the average were Engel, Greyhound, Aero Mayflower, Trans-American and national.
Those scoring between one and 10 points above the average were Bekins, J. Ivory, Atlas, Global, Wheaton, Lyon, Allied and Interstate. Slightly below were Pan American, American Ball Red, North American, Republic, and King.