April 26, 2021 4:30 PM, EDT

Average Price of Diesel Stays at $3.124 a Gallon

Trucks refueling at nightThinkstock

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While diesel prices remained flat according to data released this  week, experts are warning of rising prices headed into summer as a shortage of tank truck drivers threatens to tighten supplies.

The national average price of diesel remained unchanged this week at $3.124 a gallon, according to data released by the Energy Information Administration. But that price left trucking’s primary fuel 68.7 cents per gallon more expensive than it was a year ago.

On a regional basis, diesel prices fell in four regions and rose in six. The biggest decline was 1.3 cents a gallon in the Lower Atlantic region to $2.98; the biggest increase was nine-tenths of a cent that was seen in three regions (New England, Central Atlantic and California).

Diesel had increased each week this year, peaking at $3.194 on March 22, and had then dropped four straight weeks until last week.

Gasoline increased by 1.7 cents on the national average to reach $2.872 a gallon.

Concerns about availability of fuel later this summer was raised by National Tank Truck Carriers Executive Vice President Ryan Streblow, who told Transport Topics that 20% to 25% of tankers in the fuel fleet delivery sector could be parked this summer due to a shortage of qualified drivers with hazmat endorsements. Streblow said at this point in 2019, about 10% of those trucks were sitting idle.

“We are very concerned,” Streblow said, noting that while the sector has historically faced shortages, the coronavirus pandemic has worsened the situation. “It’s vastly due to COVID and the long-term impacts,” he said. “People are leaving the industry, driver schools are shutting down. We all know what the problem is.”

Streblow said it is possible drivers will notice some supply challenges at fueling sites this summer.

“I wouldn’t use the expression shortage, I would say delay,” he said. “I think there is a high potential to see delays in getting goods and services to fuel stations. We won’t run out of fuel but there might be problems with a particular station with availability to keep up with demand.”

Streblow added, “As we come out of the long-term impacts of COVID, travel is picking up and I think there is a high potential for us to have shortages if this driver shortage situation continues.”

American Trucking Associations Chief Economist Bob Costello for years has sounded the alarm over the trucking industry’s broad driver shortage. He said the driver market was tight before COVID, and he now believes a high number of drivers — many of them older — likely retired or switched careers because of the pandemic.

“The driver shortage is so severe that it is, at a minimum, an operational hardship for fleets and supply chains,” Costello told Transport Topics. “It is taking extra effort and a lot of extra work so that loads are covered in the time frames needed. Will it eventually lead to shortages? I’ve been consistently saying it could. I just don’t know when that is, what it takes to get there. It seems like the driver shortage is as bad as ever.”

To emphasize his point, Costello noted that in the first quarter of 2021, for-hire truckload carriers cut back the number of trucks they were operating by 4.8%. For all of 2020, for-hire carriers cut the number of trucks they were running by 2.4%, he said.

“Nobody wants to reduce their tractor count,” he said. “What I hear over and over from fleets is, ‘If I can find drivers, I would be adding drivers.’ Cutting trucks is essentially giving up hope.”

“The industry is very busy, but it is restrained by the shortage of qualified drivers,” Virginia Trucking Association CEO Dale Bennett told Transport Topics. He noted that some carriers parked tank trailers when fuel demand shrank amid the pandemic, and shifted to other cargo. “Those carriers had to diversify and they parked their tankers and started running flatbeds to meet the housing and construction demand,” he said. “That probably had some impact on what drivers they could keep.”


On-Highway Diesel Fuel Prices

Fuel table for April 26, 2021

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