Surcharges begin to show up as gas prices continue to climb

With gas prices continuing to surge, many Tampa Bay area businesses are adding gas surcharges to customer bills or at least thinking about doing it.

"We tried to hold off as long as we could," said Barry Nierengarten, president of Affordable Courier Solutions, a Seminole delivery service.

Gas prices in Tampa Bay have increased about 45 cents in the past month, jumping from $3.07 per gallon for regular to $3.52, according to AAA. They're up nearly 75 cents from a year ago. Experts say prices could hit $4 sometime this summer.

As a result, owners of everything from pizza and computer repair shops to taxicab companies and food-delivery operations are thinking about a surcharge.

Affordable Courier added a 4 percent gas surcharge to its delivery fee on March 1. That jumped to 8 percent after gas prices continued to rise.

Nierengarten acknowledged that surcharges sometimes can hurt business but said several other couriers have followed suit.

"Ninety-nine percent of people understand the surcharge. Everybody buys gas," said Nierengarten, who also pays surcharges on everything from uniforms to watercooler deliveries.

Citing the brutal Florida economy, many businesses say they are holding off, at least for now.

Steve Hale, who owns Hale's Air Conditioning in St. Petersburg, said he toyed with the idea of a gas surcharge recently. The response from customers was horrible, he said.

"As of now, we're kind of just taking it on the chin, hoping it goes away," Hale said.

Hale said his gas costs have gone up 40 percent.

"Things might get really ugly here this summer," he said.

Mark-Anthony Phillips, owner of the food-delivery company Tampa Bay Delivered, said he's had a gas surcharge on his deliveries since the last gas spike in 2008. He said he would have to consider raising the surcharge, now at $1.90, if gas went above $4.

Brook Neguser, president of Cab Plus, based in Tampa, said he's been slammed by gas prices, but has not increased fares yet.

"We're surviving," he said.

This hike is reminiscent of 2008, when gas prices skyrocketed over $4 a gallon and numerous businesses around Tampa Bay, and the nation, implemented gas surcharges and other measures to fight rising costs.

July 2008 saw the highest average recorded price for regular gas in Tampa Bay at $4, according to AAA. The highest recorded price for diesel fuel also came that month at $4.82.

Gas prices are extremely volatile right now, responding incident by incident to the crises in the Middle East and Japan.

The Middle East crisis has caused speculators to brace for a decrease in crude oil supply, even though the United States gets about 3 percent of Libya's oil exports. In the short term, gas prices are expected to drop in response to the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear crisis in Japan, which have decreased demand.

Thus far, bus riders have been unaffected by gas price fluctuations. Hillsborough Area Regional Transit partnered with Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (and Citrus Connection) to buy gas in advance — at about $2.30 a gallon — for fiscal year 2011, said Marcia Mejia, a HART spokeswoman.

HART used to buy fuel every few months, but this is the first time it bought so much fuel in advance. HART, which uses about 191,000 gallons every month, saved about $1.2 million.

Times staff writer Ileana Morales contributed to this report.

Pain at the pump

Gas prices in the Tampa Bay area have increased about

45 cents in the past month and are up almost 75 cents from a year ago. Experts

say prices could hit $4 sometime this summer.

Average price per gallon for regular gas in bay area, according to AAA:

Month-ago price

$3.07

Price Now

$3.52

Surcharges begin to show up as gas prices continue to climb 03/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 17, 2011 10:28pm]

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