Gas prices increase costs for businesses

Some owners say they are raising or considering raising their fees.

Some owners say they are raising or considering raising their fees.

May 07, 2006|By CANDICE BOSELY

Pam Wagoner knows exactly how much gas prices have dropped recently in Martinsburg, W.Va.: 11 cents a gallon. She and others who own businesses that depend on being on the road or delivering products - Wagoner owns a florist shop - are watching gas prices closely.

Despite the 11-cent drop, prices still are hovering around $3 per gallon in the area, and customers soon could feel effects beyond what they hand over to a gas station cashier.

To make up for high gas costs, some business owners said they have raised or are considering raising prices.

Wagoner, owner of Depot Florist, raised her delivery charges in January after the wholesale companies that deliver flowers to her King Street shop raised theirs.

Delivery still is free to hospitals and funeral homes, but delivery rates to other places in the area now start at $4.75, up from the prior rate of $4, she said.


It was the first time Wagoner had raised prices in about three years, and she said that customers have been loyal and sympathetic to her plight.

Measures are taken to conserve gas.

"We just have to be very cautious with deliveries now," Wagoner said.

Orders are arranged by geography - the company serves Berkeley and Jefferson counties - to ensure the shop's delivery drivers are making smart trips. If a trip is made to the hospital in the morning, another might not be made until the afternoon, she said.

The shop has two minivans, which Wagoner said have gas tanks that cost about $46 to fill.

Pizzas and taxis

Think of delivery, and many might think of pizza.

Roberto Gonzalez owns Vince's New York Pizza & Italian Ristorante shops in Smithsburg and Hagerstown. He already is dealing with higher costs for propane, which is used to operate his restaurants' ovens.

Now, he said, gasoline prices have caused distributors to charge more for the items he orders, and his delivery drivers need to earn more to pay for gasoline.

So far, Gonzalez said he has managed to stave off increasing the prices his customers pay, but that likely will change.

"I'm going to have to very soon," he said.

If there's anyone on the road more than a pizza delivery person, it just might be a taxi driver.

Lebert Atkinson is a driver for Chambersburg (Pa.) City Cab who said that, on busy days, he can drive as many as 600 to 700 miles, and on such days, will have to fill up his car's tank twice.

"It has a big effect," Atkinson said of the gas prices. "We just have to keep going on. There's nothing we can do."

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission sets the rates that each taxi company can charge, and they cannot arbitrarily be changed.

Atkinson said the cab company has been in touch with the commission about the issue.

"I gotta keep driving," he said.

Last month, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission gave taxi companies permission to increase the fuel surcharge they charge per trip/per paying customer from 50 cents to 60 cents, said Cyndi Page, spokeswoman for Pennsylvania's PUC.

No such surcharge system is in effect in Washington County, said Chrissy Nizer, a spokeswoman with the Maryland Public Service Commission.

In Pennsylvania, the first fuel surcharge was approved in June 2004, and was 30 cents per trip. It has fluctuated since, peaking at a 90-cent rate approved Sept. 9, 2005, a little more than a week after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, Page said.

The latest 60-cent fuel surcharge will expire June 12 unless the commission extends it, but Page said it's too early to speculate on what will happen then.

Vehicles, big and small

While the odometer on a taxi might go up several hundred miles a day, here's the mileage racked up by all of the school bus drivers in Berkeley County, W.Va. - 2 1/2 million miles a year.

"Bottom line, we move 16,000 kids twice a day on 165 bus runs. And there's not a whole lot you can do to change that," said Ron Cartee, director of transportation for Berkeley County Schools.

All of the county's buses run on biodiesel - a mixture of regular diesel fuel and vegetable oil. The distributor who won the contract to supply the county with fuel bases his price on what the refineries charge, which can change once or twice a day.

That means the school system receives a new bill every week or so when it fills its 10,000-gallon tank at the county bus garage and two 1,000-gallon satellite tanks, Cartee said.

While that cost cannot be controlled, other measures have been put into place to try to reduce fuel usage.

Buses are prohibited from idling for prolonged periods of time, including while waiting for schools to dismiss, and trips are combined whenever possible. For example, if the girls softball team and the boys baseball team both have an away game in Hampshire County, W.Va., on the same night, they could ride in the same bus rather than in two buses, Cartee said.

State officials have helped counties pay for increased fuel costs, Cartee said, but such costs still are making up a sizable percentage of the school system's annual budget, which is nearing its end.

"That number jumps right out at you at this time of year," Cartee said.

When they're not in school, some teenagers might be on the road learning to drive.

At Leasure's Driving School in Hagerstown, the price to take a driver's education course was raised $20, from $270 to $290, over the winter to keep up with increasing gas costs, office manager Jack Sharkey said.

A driver's education course is required for anyone, regardless of age, who has never before had a driver's license. Many customers, already irritated at being forced to take the course, are even more pugnacious when they learn of the price increase, Sharkey said.

"It's kind of hard to explain why you're raising your prices 20 dollars," he said.

Each student enrolled at the school must spend six hours on the road with an instructor. Trips are broken down into three two-hour increments, with each being about 90 miles, Sharkey said.

He estimated the company's three cars average about 25 miles per gallon.

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