High prices at the pump affecting the way many conduct their business

Herald/SARAH MOORE KUSCHELL - Papa John’s driver Gary Hudson heads out to make a delivery on Sunday evening. Delivery drivers, like Hudson, have been hit hard because of the gas price increases. Hudson drove 130 miles on Saturday.

By Victor O'Brien

Killeen Daily Herald

High gas prices may mean that a fresh, hot pepperoni pizza delivered to your doorstep will empty your wallet while it fills your belly.

Businesses like pizza delivery chains, florists and moving companies are feeling the crunch from rising gas prices.

Several local pizza chains have instituted delivery fees to offset the increasing costs of gas.

Angel Wolf, manager at Pizza Pros on Rancier Avenue, said last year the price of a large one-topping pizza was $10.80 cents. Now that pizza costs nearly $3 more because of a $1.49 delivery fee piled on top of higher cheese and flour costs.

At Papa Johns on West Veterans Memorial Boulevard, manager Ken Crump said in addition to a $1.95 delivery charge they are having to scrounge up the last shreds of cheese and spoonfuls of tomato paste.

"It's just saving everything. It's important not to waste any money at all. Scrape your containers completely clean," Crump said.

The high gas prices have hit the drivers, who already are responsible for gas, twice. Crump said the customers are saying they need to save tip money for their own wallets.

"It used to be they'd at least say keep the change and now they wait for every penny back," Wolf said.

Wolf said she expects it to get worse as gas prices continue to climb.

"Once it hits $4 the drivers will start with 'I need more money.' A lot of the customers don't tip, but if they were tipping real good, we wouldn't have to worry about that," she said.

The situation is felt across the board at businesses that rely on gas to provide services. Cab drivers usually put about half their fares in their pockets, minus gas.

Since cab fares are regulated by the city, companies haven't been able to raise rates to offset high gas prices and the drivers are making less because they're paying more for gas.

The result is cab drivers who receive $1.25 per mile are now watching almost 60 cents of that go toward gas, said Ronda Mikael, leasing clerk at Killeen Cab Co.

Mikael said Killeen Cab Co. plans to approach the City Council about raising rates, but in the meantime Killeen Cab is struggling to keep drivers.

Killeen residents planning a big summer move will feel a big squeeze in their wallets.

At Scobey Moving and Storage, customers are paying between 13 percent and 19 percent more for a move because of fuel surcharges, Pam Jeffrey said.

The fuel surcharge, which fluctuates with federal gas rates, is one of the few places where a moving company can pass the cost of higher gas prices to customers.

Scobey has had to find other ways to cut back since the surcharge doesn't completely cover operating costs. Drivers are trying to make fewer trips by piling more stops together. Also, added emphasis has been placed on regular vehicle maintenance, such as keeping up with tire pressure and oil changes, to get better gas mileage.

Some local businesses may not have increased delivery rates yet, but that may be about to change. Christell's Flowers in downtown hasn't increased delivery charges in three years, but co-owner Tammy Austin said they may charge an extra fee for customers seeking "shotgun" deliveries, or one-stop deliveries at specific times.

"If gas prices keep soaring, we would have to do something or we'd start losing money," Austin said.

The key to not having to pass the cost to the customers has been working smart, Austin said.

Thus far they encourage customers to accept delivery between a two-hour time frame, so drivers can group orders together and make less trips. The high volume of business Christell's does has helped them offset costs because they can deliver several orders on one trip, Austin said. They've also bought several Jeep Patriot SUVs because they get better mileage than the older vans.

Several local business managers agree that scraping the bottom of pizza sauce containers, making fewer delivery trips or adding charges may not be enough to spare customers from high costs if gas prices hit $5.

"If gas prices keep soaring, we would have to do something or we'd start losing money," Austin said.

The costs are especially dire for local chains that have to answer to customers about why their pizza costs more.

"It's either go under or charge a little more to try to stay here," Wolf said.

Contact Victor O'Brien at vobrien@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7468.

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