- The Washington Times - Friday, April 15, 2005

Local businesses that offer delivery service are desperately trying to find ways to combat rising fuel costs without charging customers extra.

Lee Herman, executive vice president of Palace Florists Inc. in Northwest, has started monitoring his delivery range to maintain his $9.95 delivery cost.

“We’re starting to send our further-out deliveries by courier service. They’re still our flowers, but we’re not paying for gas,” he said.

Mr. Herman said the increase in the price of gasoline had “definitely affected our bottom line,” but he does not plan to pass on the increase to customers.

“We’ve been in business for 63 years and have seen a lot of gas crises. We’re not changing anything just yet,” he said.

The Energy Information Administration last week projected that the average price of gas will peak at $2.35 a gallon in May. Gasoline prices in the Washington area have risen an average of a nickel per gallon a week since early March.

The average price nationwide for regular, self-serve jumped 6.3 cents in the past week to $2.28 a gallon, the fourth consecutive weekly record, the agency said Monday.

York Flowers off Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest has not narrowed its delivery range and still uses its own trucks.

“We still deliver all over. At this point, we have no plans to raise our delivery fee,” said store owner Ken Denaburg.

Some businesses have decided they had no choice but to pass on the increase to customers.

Dryclean Depot, a national chain, has raised its prices for the first time in 10 years, from $1.75 to $1.89 per item.

“It’s not just gas; everything has gone up. Right now, it’s just on the business end with suppliers, but we’re monitoring the situation,” said Ron Cole, manager at a Dryclean Depot in Manassas.

The D.C. Taxicab Commission voted April 5 to add a temporary $1 surcharge to fares starting in May. The surcharge will stay in effect for 120 days until the commission can determine a permanent solution.

“Gas prices are going up so fast, every week it’s up 10 cents or more, and the drivers can’t make enough money to pay for it,” said commission member Sandra Seegars.

The Greater Washington Board of Trade says it is too soon to gauge the effect of rising fuel costs on local businesses.

“We haven’t had time to measure the impact on things like jobs; unfortunately, rising gas prices impact everyone,” said Tom Morr, spokesman for the local business organization.

Stephen Fuller, an economics professor at George Mason University, said national companies are less likely to absorb the cost of rising fuel as they did last year.

“What’s more troubling in the long run isn’t that gasoline has gotten more expensive, but prices will start to increase. People will start to feel the rising cost of fuel more as the year progresses,” Mr. Fuller said.

One industry that is passing along the price increase is the airline industry. The rising cost of jet fuel, which has more than doubled since 2003, has prompted many airlines to raise fares as much as $60 a ticket and set lower weight limits on baggage.

American Airlines last week increased its fuel charge to 16 cents per pound from 14 cents for domestic cargo shipments. Southwest Airlines has changed its weight limit from 75 to 50 pounds per bag.

“We still allow our customers to take three bags, but any bag over 50 pounds we’re going to charge you $25 for,” said Marilee McInnis, a spokeswomen for Southwest.

Independence Air also is considering baggage limitations.

“We have about 100 fuel-saving methods in place, but they’re not enough to keep pace with rising fuel costs. Anyone who drives a car can understand what we’re going through,” said Rick DeLisi, spokesman for the financially struggling Sterling, Va., airline.

Pizza restaurants also are feeling the crunch, with many cutting back on the number of deliveries a driver can make in one night.

“[The drivers] used to go on six or more runs a night, but now they’ve been cut back to two or four,” said Ralph Maddox, manager at Papa John’s on 14th Street in Northwest.

Domino’s Pizza will begin charging a $1 delivery fee for every order to compensate for rising production costs.

Both Pizza Hut and Papa John’s are monitoring the fuel situation.

“We’re watching it, but nothing has made us go, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do?’” said Patty Sullivan, a spokeswoman for Pizza Hut.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend recommended that drivers increase fuel efficiency by ensuring tires are properly inflated, not idling their cars for more than minute, and “shopping with their steering wheel.”

“People need to consolidate trips, drive less and find other means to commute. If you’re going to the grocery store and you need to go to the bank, do it all at once,” Mr. Townsend said.

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