Gas prices squeeze taxi, bus services

Sunday, May 27, 2007

National gas prices reached record heights above the $3 mark last week, and local transportation services are taking the loss for now.

Tom Mogelnicki, interim executive director of the Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority, said the bus and taxi service will have to charge more if gas prices go up again.

In a review of gas stations in Cape Girardeau on Saturday, the most common price of regular unleaded fuel was $2.99 a gallon. Midgrade was $3.09, premium was $3.19 and diesel was $2.68.

For the transit authority, a one-way trip in Cape Girardeau during a normal work day costs $5 to $8.50, which is determined by zone. In Jackson the cost is $2 to $2.50. A trip from Cape Girardeau to Jackson costs $10.

The company has about 26 vehicles that use a total of 5,000 gallons of gas per month, according to Mogelnicki.

"We use so many gallons of gas, even a 10-cent increase makes a difference," Mogelnicki said. "We've been absorbing the increases over the past couple years. We're not in business to lose money."

Tim Duffey, the owner of Cape Girardeau shuttle service Designated Driver, does his business by undercutting the cost of a taxi for people going out for a drink. Because rates are so low, Duffey said, there's not much room to raise prices.

"Every dollar we increase, we lose a percentage of volume," he said. "I'm doing everything I can to keep our prices reasonable so people continue to use our service. It's getting to be extremely difficult to do."

The service costs $12 a round trip for up to three people -- the cost of a beer apiece, as Duffey says. His gas bill has recently gone from $650 to $1,000 a week.

Three months ago Duffey purchased a new Dodge Caravan that gets 22 to 28 miles per gallon because of rising cost of gas. For groups of 10 to 15 people, the company has a 15-passenger van that gets six miles to the gallon. Duffey said they try to use that vehicle as little as possible.

Designated Driver has seven drivers who communicate with Nextel walkie-talkies to eliminate the need for a dispatcher.

"It's a lean operation, but you have to keep it that way to make it in this business," Duffey said. "We're making money. The profit margin per ride is slim, so you need to do enough of them."

Cape Girardeau's Bootheel Area Rapid Transportation has not raised prices but is still making a profit, according to owner Kathy Hecht.

"Our business has increased partially due to gas prices," Hecht said.

The van shuttle service transports people in Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois to and from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. A one-way trip from Cape Girardeau or Jackson costs $55.

The company has 18 vehicles, three of which were added in the past two years.Hecht said that while she doesn't want to raise rates, she'll have to see what gas prices do.

Missouri's highest recorded price of regular unleaded gas was $3.21 on Thursday, one cent below the national average, according to AAA. That's 51 cents more than the average cost of fuel one month ago in Missouri. The average cost of diesel in Missouri has gone down 3 cents since last month.

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