Businesses adjust to high gas prices |

Businesses adjust to high gas prices

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Private companies and public entities are feeling the pinch at the pump as gas prices continue to rise. Consumers can expect to see rising costs for services and goods for years to come, observers say. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN ” Within the last eight years, gas and diesel costs for the Aspen Skiing Co. rose 218 percent, largely due to energy price increases.

At the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which provides bus service in Aspen and the greater Roaring Fork Valley, this year’s fuel costs could be $700,000 more than the $1.8 million already budgeted, spokeswoman Sylvia Cranmer said.

The pain at the pump is being felt across the board.

“It’s just getting to that point where you go, ‘Oohh,'” said Bob Harris, owner of Blazing Adventures, headquartered in Snowmass Village.

A week ago, the American Automobile Association reported the national average for a gallon of gas had hit a record $4 ” a benchmark that the Roaring Fork Valley passed months ago.

At those prices, local business owners say they can no longer absorb the rising price of fuel. A few already have raised prices to stay profitable, but nearly all say they will have to soon. Several companies have even switched vehicles or arranged for employees to drive less often. And most say they’re not counting on the price of gas falling anytime soon.

Carbondale-based All in All Hauling has raised prices 10 to 15 percent each of the last three years. And Taster’s pizza, which has restaurants in Aspen and Snowmass Village, recently added a $2 charge for delivery.

But despite their growing awareness of rising gas costs, most businesses said they are holding steady on the prices they charge.

Harris, of Blazing Adventures, a whitewater rafting outfitter, said he has not raised prices or instituted a gas surcharge yet, partly because great whitewater in the Roaring Fork Valley this summer may mean he won’t have to drive customers far to find good rapids. As a result, his overall fuel costs might not be more than he budgeted.

But he thinks customers will understand a gas surcharge, if he has to charge one, given the recent steep increases in fuel.

Michael Tanguay, owner of Aspen Construction, said rising fuel costs will probably translate into higher prices for his customers, but he also said he had not raised prices yet.

Gretchen Dahlberg, manager of High Mountain Taxi in Aspen, said rates have not been raised lately, but sometime this summer, the company will seek a fare increase through the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which regulates taxi rates.

“It would not surprise me if some of the [taxi] companies came in asking for fuel surcharge,” PUC spokesman Terry Bote said.

Cab companies can either ask for a rate increase or seek permission to charge a temporary fuel surcharge, Bote said. The emergency fuel surcharges were popular about two years ago, but this year the agency hasn’t yet seen any applications for them.

If valley bus riders see a fare increase, it won’t be until at least Thanksgiving, said Cranmer. It’s too late for RFTA to raise rates for the summer season, she said, and RFTA probably would not “get a very big bang” by raising them.

However, RFTA might evaluate the need for a rate increase to compensate for higher fuel costs in the 2009 budgeting process, said Cranmer. If implemented, such an increase could take effect around Thanksgiving. Bus service in the city of Aspen is free, but valley riders pay fares to ride RFTA.

In the meantime, many businesses have devised creative solutions to handle rising gas costs.

All in All Hauling owner Harold Leonard has begun leaving a smaller truck in Aspen to run deliveries around different areas of Aspen and Snowmass Village. That way, he only has to use his large semi-trailer truck to bring the packages up the valley on the highway.

At High Mountain Taxi, dispatchers are trying to avoid “deadhead” miles by dispatching the driver closest to the customer.

Aspen Constructors employees are relying more on electronic communication, “instead of jumping in the truck and driving every time you need to,” said Tanguay.

The Skico has put eight commuter bikes at its main office, so employees can use them to run in-town errands.

The ski company also purchased six-wheelers and ATVs to drive around the ski mountains, instead of using larger trucks.

But Auden Schendler, executive director for community and environmental responsibility at the Skico, acknowledged that none of those small fixes get to the core of the main problem, which is that Skico needs to have vehicles that can drive on the mountains, plow snow and groom slopes.

The company hasn’t found good hybrid-utility pick-up trucks, Schendler said, and while the company buys the most efficient snowcats available, “snowcats are snowcats.”

RFTA, meanwhile, has asked drivers to reduce their idle time and watch their driving techniques to conserve fuel. RFTA also is looking into programming buses to shut down automatically if they idle more than five minutes at a time.

While gas prices typically peak around Memorial Day weekend in the United States, some experts are suggesting that drivers shouldn’t expect to see gas prices fall dramatically anytime soon. Rising demand in India and China ” the world’s fastest-growing countries ” continues to drive prices skyward, even as Americans try to cut back.

The Community Office for Resource Efficiency in Aspen predicts that in the long term, world oil production could hit its peak sometime between 2010 and 2030.

“After production peaks, oil will be readily available at a higher price, though in declining amounts, for 50 years. No one will freeze in the dark … but the transition to expensive oil may be bumpy,” former CORE director Randy Udall has written.

Valley business owners say they are readying for prices to continue to stay high.

“These prices make us more conscious about what we do and how we do it,” Harris said. “If it went back to $3 a gallon, I’d say that is perfect.”