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Fuel surcharges add up for Tampa Bay area businesses

Phil Alessi, owner of Tampa's iconic Alessi Bakery, made a call last week from his Cypress Street office to his store's factory in north Tampa.

The company patriarch wanted to know exactly how much his business was spending on fuel surcharges tacked on to delivery fees. He hadn't checked in a while, and with gas prices climbing ever higher, he didn't expect them to be cheap.

But when the owner heard the numbers, his expression flinched just a little bit.

A female voice buzzed from his desktop speakerphone, revealing the damage: "It changes every week, but today, it's at 51 percent. If the shipping fee is $100, the surcharge is 51 percent of that."

"That is amazing," Alessi said.

In its nearly 100 years doing business, the bakery has never had to drop so much on fuel-related surcharges.

Neither have most other people in America.

But these days, the fuel surcharge is becoming a fact of life for businesses and consumers alike. And industry trends suggest these fees for fuel, added on to everything from plane tickets to doorstep deliveries, are here to stay.

The Times took a look at familiar services that will likely be charging — or be forced to pay — extra fuel fees for years to come.

Dominick Tao can be reached at dtao@sptimes.com.

Tip, please. Plus throw in for fuel

Since more customers are asking for just pickups and dropoffs instead of "nights out" because of the extra gas an idling limo burns, Ryan Day, president of Tampa's Premier Limousine, has been forced to charge a two-hour minimum for even shorter trips. When customers do want a limo for the whole night, they'd better plan for a longer jaunt out on the town — Day said to make the trips profitable, he needs to push for a minimum rental of five hours. Premier is replacing its Lincoln Town Car limos with more efficient Chrysler 300s and buying Chevy SUVs that can take higher blends of ethanol biofuel. "It's like when you hire a plumber," Day said. "The plumber charges for labor, and then he charges extra for material. Gas is our material."


By air or by sea? An extra fee

In the cruise industry, daily diesel tithes have become mandatory. On top of the normal fare of about $450 per person, a couple on a four-day Bahamian cruise with Royal Caribbean is required to chip in an extra $10 per day — each. Royal Caribbean spokesman Michael Sheehan said per-day fuel charges are necessary to offset the company's rising fuel costs, which he says have more than doubled.


Special delivery, and a special bill to match

Virgil Kelly, owner of Kelly's Restaurant in Dunedin, said starting about three months ago his food supply delivery invoices began arriving with a $5 surcharge. And multiple deliveries each week add up. Kelly has been in business for 19 years, and says this is the hardest assault on his profession he has seen. He has to pay $4 more for fryer oil. Olives went up $12 in one week, not including the extra fuel fees he pays to U.S. Foodservice, his supplier. "My only other option is to close," he said. "But that's not an option." Many small-restaurant owners like Kelly have even resorted to being their own delivery drivers, and getting food supplies at wholesalers like Sam's Club.


What goes up might not come down

Jason Jurgens, owner of All Around Transport Services in Riverview, says he tacks on "an additional 25 percent, easy," to most runs. A loaded semitrailer truck can guzzle about $800 in fuel on a trip from Tampa to the Keys. And he only sees his charges rising. "Your fuel surcharge goes up," he said. "It rarely goes down." Jamie Hines, a broker for Manatee Logistics, which moves Florida agricultural products around the country, said because fuel costs have caused some truckers to drop out of the business, less competition could mean those who stay in business are likely to add even more fees. "Supply," he said. "And demand."

Gas prices

$3.978

Tampa Bay area average for regular unleaded

$2.912

A year ago

$4.756

Tampa Bay area average for diesel

$2.839

A year ago

$4.073

National average for regular last week

Source: AAA

Fuel surcharges add up for Tampa Bay area businesses 06/23/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 23, 2008 10:02am]
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