Marvin Kansteiner, owner Brothers Plumbing Heating and Electric in Thornton, has a fleet of 30 trucks that get about 10 miles per gallon. Kansteiner
Marvin Kansteiner, owner Brothers Plumbing Heating and Electric in Thornton, has a fleet of 30 trucks that get about 10 miles per gallon. Kansteiner says he might have to raise a service fee this summer to offset higher fuel costs. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

With the cost of gasoline and diesel skyrocketing, numerous Denver-area businesses have added trip or fuel surcharges to their fees, and others say they're likely to do so this summer if prices keep rising.

Other companies say they'll forgo the surcharges and instead roll the higher fuel costs into overall prices for everything from food to plumbing fixtures.

"With gas $4 a gallon, you don't have a choice," said Mike Lewis, owner of The Office Connection, an Aurora-based computer-repair and products firm.

Lewis imposes a $35 trip charge he says is a result of gas prices. He added the fee last year. Like many business operators, Lewis originally implemented the charge when gas prices spiked in the summer of 2008 but waived it after gas prices came down later that year.

"Every guy and gal I know in this business, we are having to make it up somehow," Lewis said.

Landscaping businesses also are among those adding fees. Swingle recently sent a postcard to clients notifying them of $3 and $6 fuel surcharges depending on the type of trip. The fees took effect April 1. The company did not return calls for comment.

Gregg Laskoski, a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, said the fact that crude oil came down to $101 in intraday trading Monday might be a temporary blip.

"It is premature to think the prices will go down," he said. "We think it is too soon to tell."


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Laskoski attributed Monday's lower price, in part, to the fact that fewer people are returning to work in the United States, meaning there won't be an "uptick in consumption (of gasoline)" among the newly re-employed.

Generally, business people say they expect fuel prices to keep climbing.

Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations, said prices of goods at the grocery store will probably go up this summer. He attributes the likely increase to the high cost of diesel fuel that truckers must pay to deliver produce to grocery stores, he said.

"How much they'll go up, nobody knows," Costello said. "But the vast majority of products in grocery stores are delivered by truck."

Nationally the average cost of a gallon of diesel is $4.15. Costello said that at $4 a gallon, fuel costs surpass labor costs.

Large suppliers of commodities like beer and meat use the Denver trucking firm Western Distributing Transportation Corp. to get their products to customers. They are charged a base rate and a fuel surcharge based on a weekly U.S. Department of Energy price survey for diesel fuel.

Western vice president Dino Guadagni said fuel prices have increased so much that the situation " is out of control."

Guadagni said he thinks the shippers are going to have to pass the costs on to their customers.

"I feel bad for the customers," Guadagni said. "We pay for it at the pump, and we pay for it when we eat."

He said he was paying 55 cents more per gallon for diesel this March than a year ago.

Marvin Kansteiner, owner of Brothers Plumbing Heating and Electric in Thornton, is among those who have held the line on prices, despite having a fleet of 30 trucks.

"They are heavy, big, not very economical and get 10 miles per gallon," said Kansteiner, who founded the company in 1980.

Kansteiner has a $40 upfront service fee to get to a job and evaluate it. The fee has been in place for about five years.

In 2010, he spent $130,000 on fuel. In 2011, he spent $175,000 on fuel.

Kansteiner said rising fuel prices are a concern and he might have to raise the service fee in the coming months.

Derek Figueroa, chief operating officer of Denver's Seattle Fish Co., also has sought to avoid adding a fuel surcharge.

The company delivers to 600 customers in Colorado, half retailers and half restaurants. Seattle Fish Co. trucks drive 225,000 miles a quarter.

"It is certainly one of our challenges," Figueroa said of the fuel costs.

But he is philosophically against fuel surcharges. "It sends the wrong message," he said. "Customers prefer to see a finished price."

To help offset the higher fuel costs, Figueroa said the company got smaller trucks whose mileage is 3 miles per gallon better than the larger trucks.

"That increased our fuel efficiency," he said. "Every day we need to compete."

Howard Pankratz: 303-954-1939, hpankratz@denverpost.com or twitter.com/HowardPankratz