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Dec. 3, 2022

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Clark County businesses that rely on driving feeling the pinch at the pump

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
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3 Photos
Safety manager Chase Henline of 1-800-Got-Junk? fills up a work vehicle as a nearby sign reflects high fuel prices during a stop at a Shell station in Hazel Dell on Friday morning.
Safety manager Chase Henline of 1-800-Got-Junk? fills up a work vehicle as a nearby sign reflects high fuel prices during a stop at a Shell station in Hazel Dell on Friday morning. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

David Williams’ business, Aspen Limo Tours, revolves around driving. In the last four weeks, he’s watched as gas prices have skyrocketed.

“We are going to sell six vehicles because we cannot afford the gas,” he said. And it’s not just gas. “We cannot afford the labor, and we cannot afford the rising cost of maintenance.”

Williams has added full medical and dental benefits to attract workers at his company. As for parts, if he can find them, he estimates that they’ve doubled in price. Take tires.

“You don’t order the ones that you want,” said Williams. “Those are backordered. And since those are backordered, everything else that you can get that’s in stock goes up from, say, $150 a tire to now $300 a tire.

“That’s just across the board,” said Williams, who has had to raise his own prices.

He gets calls from customers wanting to use his limo service, only to express their shock at the cost.

“Yes, they are staggering,” said Williams, pointing to his $5,000 gas bill or $8,500 gas bill at his busiest time. “How do you keep up with that? You have to raise prices.

“That’s why we’re downsizing,” he added.

Setting record highs

As of Friday, the average price for regular gasoline in Vancouver was $4.783, while the average for diesel was a whopping $5.501. Just a month ago, those averages were $3.995 and $4.192. The highest recorded average price for regular fuel in Vancouver was set March 29 at $4.798 and for diesel March 31 at $5.517, according to AAA.

Of his 18-vehicle fleet, Williams is dumping anything that’s small in capacity, anything older than a few years, as well as his mid-level shuttles.

“We are keeping nothing but our newest, best vehicles that hold a number of people that will make a per hour quota,” he said.

Williams says his company is past the point of survival, but it must be efficient to be recession-proof.

Bearing the cost

For Ben Hoskins, franchise partner at the local 1-800-Got-Junk office, the increased price for gas has raised costs for his operation. His company serves customers in all of Clark County and the east side of Portland.

“We don’t have a lot of control over how we have to drive,” he said. “We go to a customer’s house when they want us to be there.”

Fuel is his companies third largest cost. While he used to spend 4 percent of the company’s revenue on gas, he’s now spending 6 percent.

“It’s increased a couple of points for us, which is significant,” Hoskins said.

Hoskins and his staff are taking steps to offset those costs, like grouping appointments together and coming by early when a driver is in the same part of town as a later appointment. They’re also not taking trucks to drop off recycled goods daily like they were. Now, they’re waiting a few days.

“It’s that kind of main operational changes we’ve been able to make,” said Hoskins. “Because, to a certain extent, we have to go where the customer wants us.”

That means the business has to just eat the cost of the fuel. Hoskins hasn’t raised his prices and hasn’t instituted a fuel surcharge.

“As a consumer, I’m not a huge fan of seeing those tacked on to our regular rates,” Hoskins said. “For now, we will just eat it and hope that things turn around and not make our customers pay that extra price.”

Paying more or going without

It’s sad for Williams because people are eager to use his services and get back to enjoying life coming out of the pandemic. They’re wanting to take the wine tours and hire limos for their teenagers.

“This is about kids going to prom,” he said, mentioning that many of the teens, some of whom would normally have limo service for them and their friends, haven’t been able to have a regular prom for two years. “Now they do, and the price is staggering.”

“What do you do? You can’t stay doing the same thing or you’ll go under.”

But the prices have risen so much, that many are shocked and don’t hire Aspen. But it’s not just Aspen that has been affected. The company gets calls every weekend from people who’ve had their limo company cancel on them, or couldn’t find parts for their cars, or couldn’t find a driver or simply couldn’t afford to offer the service at the original price.

“That’s what’s going on,” said Williams.

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