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People who drive for a living question profitability with the surge in gas prices

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED NEWSCASTER #1: Florida gas prices, yeah, they continue to creep closer and closer to $5 a gallon.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWSCASTER #2: Gas prices are skyrocketing heading into the workweek, some gas stations heading north of $6 per gallon.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWSCASTER #3: Last month at this time, the average gallon of gas was $4.30. Now, today, that gets you less than a gallon of gas.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWSCASTER #4: Prices for a gallon of gas in Columbus have had a major increase over the past week. We've probably all have noticed.

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Yes, it's hard not to notice that gas prices are up. According to AAA, the national average hit $5 a gallon this weekend. It's a big part of the ongoing surge in consumer prices. And it's not just bad timing for summer road trips. It's particularly bad news for people who drive for a living. Drivers for ride-hailing apps, transportation businesses - inflation is cutting into their bottom line. Dennis Briggs owns D. Briggs Transportation in Pittsburgh.

DENNIS BRIGGS: So we have roughly a combination of 40 vehicles, which includes vans, a party bus, a limousine and a couple suburban vehicles - 40 in all, I would say.

RASCOE: How much are you spending on gas with all those vehicles? Like, I would imagine they take a lot of gas.

BRIGGS: In the past, it was $12,000 a month. Now it's $20,000.

RASCOE: Okay. So that's a big difference.

BRIGGS: Oh, yeah.

RASCOE: So it was 12,000. Now it's 20,000.

BRIGGS: Yes, ma'am.

RASCOE: OK. So that is - that's a lot. Like, how does that affect you, having your gas prices gone - your fuel prices go up that much?

BRIGGS: It's definitely a bit of a shocking experience to me, because the change was so abrupt. I mean, I really - I didn't quite anticipate that large of a jump that fast. But here it is. It's here. So we're dealing with it. I mean, we have to deal with it. We have to be optimistic. We have to continue to run our routes. We have to continue to service the public, answer the calls and be there for our customers and be there for our employees, as well. I guess I take the attitude that you have to take the good with the bad, but we really are experiencing a challenging time in our company right now as a result of the increase.

RASCOE: Is inflation also affecting other parts of your business, as well, in addition to just filling up the tanks?

BRIGGS: Well, see - the thing is, I mean, you have the gas, but the prices of tires have increased. And then when you think in terms of our longer trips that we might take - like, we're in Pittsburgh. We have a trip this weekend going to Maryland in our 18-passenger bus. You know, I got to factor in a whole lot more money for the gas, the cost of gas, which means I either have to raise the price on the customer, or I have to kind of, like, take it on the chin and take the loss myself.

RASCOE: Are you able to kind of sustain that, to keep kind of having your profits cut into in that way? Or do you think you'll have to raise your prices?

BRIGGS: We're going to definitely have to raise our prices. I'll tell you that. You know, I mean, I'm trying not to do it so abruptly because, again, I'm optimistic and hoping that things will level out soon.

RASCOE: And so are there areas, though, where you've had to cut back because of, you know, the rise in fuel prices?

BRIGGS: Yes, ma'am. So there are some trips that we just - we couldn't afford to do it for the price. You know, I mean, for what we were having to pay for gas and what the customer was willing to pay on their end, we couldn't meet in the middle. So as a result, we wound up not being able to service that customer or not getting that business. And that's been happening more frequently within the last month and a half.

RASCOE: How is hiring going right now? Like, is it hard to find drivers?

BRIGGS: Can I say this on that one? God has been good to us. I mean, I think that this is only our fifth year in business. And we've been experiencing a steady influx of applicants. The schools have been offering us summer opportunities, and this is a positive thing.

RASCOE: Do you - I mean, I guess just like looking out into the future, you said you do think you'll have to raise your prices. Right now, gas prices are high. They don't seem like they're going down any time really soon. Like, is there any - are there any other kind of long-term strategies that you're making?

BRIGGS: I think the greatest defense is to have a strong offense. And I feel as though getting more business, that way we can absorb that increase in cost, and we can keep our prices as affordable as possible because we're doing a larger volume of business.

RASCOE: Dennis Briggs of D. Briggs Transportation in Pittsburgh, thank you so much.

BRIGGS: Thank you so much for having us. We appreciate you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.