Chain reaction

Robin Smith prepares to take a delivery from Tiger Lily on the Charleston peninsula to Kiawah Island. With the cost of fuel rising, the store has increased delivery charges.

Carpool. Ride your bike. Walk.

Gas prices will still leech into your wallet, as a host of businesses tack on surcharges to cover their fast-rising fuel bills.

"You have to do it," said Bob Bucholtz, owner of Mount Pleasant Shuttle. "Some people accept it, some people don't. The majority of them, they understand."

Mount Pleasant Shuttle started levying a 5 percent surcharge on June 1. The company spent $5,900 last month to fuel its fleet: a mini-bus, two Lincoln Town Cars and three vans.

Charleston Black Cab Co., which runs an all-diesel fleet of 20 taxis, seven Sprinter vans and one mini-coach, used to pay $6,000 a month for fuel. Now it is forking over roughly $11,000 a month, according to Verity Rowe, vice president.

The cab operator plans to increase fares on longer routes by an undetermined amount in the next two weeks. Rowe said the company likely will raise the cost of trips from downtown to the airport to $50 from $40.

"We really didn't want to," she said. "For a while, it was a win-some, lose-some situation depending on the route, but now we have no choice. And the situation isn't going to get better. It's just going to get worse."

The average price of a gallon of regular gas in the Charleston region is up $1.06, or 38 percent, from a year ago to about $3.87 Wednesday, according to AAA. Premium grades are already past the $4 mark, and diesel fuel was fetching about $4.59 a gallon Wednesday, up about $1.84 since last June.

Tiger Lily, a downtown florist, raised its delivery fees by a dollar about eight months ago, bringing the surcharge to $6.99 for downtown drop-offs and $8.99 for trips off the peninsula.

"We don't want to price ourselves out of the range," said General Manager Lauren Seaborn. "And we want to take care of our customers. They already pay quite a bit."

While the locally based Andolini's Pizza chain does not offer delivery service, its bottom line is still affected by gas prices. Owner Michael Rabin said he's getting hit on all sides by his vendors.

"They're putting charges on now we've never seen before," he said.

Rabin noted that fuel prices, coupled with soaring demand for certain farm commodities, have triggered "a chain reaction" that has pushed up prices for basic pizza-making products such as meat and flour.

"One reason it is going on is that farmers are paying so much more for fuel and feed and corn," he said.

Jack Gillis, director of public affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Federation of America, said surcharges can be problematic, partly because they're largely unregulated and can make it difficult to compare prices. He used as an example a traveler who buys a $200 fare on an airline that charges to check a piece of luggage compared with a similar fare on a carrier that does not have a baggage fee. "You ended up buying the more expensive flight," Gillis said.

Will the fees stick when gas prices stabilize or drop? College of Charleston economics professor Frank Hefner said they likely will. Those charges "become embedded in the market psychology, and that's just the way we do business," he said.

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Hefner said customers also should get ready to see more "price escalation clauses" from transportation and delivery businesses. That means a customer might pay a low price for a service in advance but could face a fee later if gas prices get higher in the meantime.

"Nobody wants to raise the fundamental prices, so they're making add-ons to that," Hefner said.

And most businesses won't see a backlash from the add-ons, he said, since the charges likely will come across the board.

Walking into the Harris-Teeter on East Bay Street Wednesday morning, Geri Willinger said surcharges don't surprise her.

"I think they just have to tack it on," she said. "I don't think we can expect the middlemen to absorb the cost and stay in business. We all have to pay our share."

Willinger, who lives in Walnut Creek, Calif., consequently rented a fuel-efficient Toyota Prius for her travels while visiting relatives here.

John P. McDermott of The Post and Courier contributed to this report.