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How 5 Small Firms Handle High Gas Prices

The Provider Enterprises; Brentwood, N.H.
Transportation contractor The Provider Enterprises works with schools to bus special-needs children.

Scholes' mother founded the company in the early 1980s to take his sister to school. The company now has a fleet of 200 vehicles that transport more than 1,600 kids per day, running roughly 130,000 miles per week -- roughly 5 million miles annually.

"Fuel is our biggest expense next to labor," Scholes says, estimating fuel costs at between 10% and 15% of his budget.

Most of the fleet are small school buses, more commonly known as short buses. Scholes is adding Kia Sedonas, which run roughly 23 miles to the gallon versus 11 miles for the buses, he says.

Like North Raleigh Florist, the company is routing drivers more efficiently. Scholes has also installed onboard GPS systems that give frequent automated reports that track bus service and show when a bus may be sitting idle for too long.

"We're paying a lot more attention to it," Scholes says.

Still Scholes projects that his gas expenses will rise more than 20% this year as compared with last year.

While Scholes expects gas prices to go down, in the meantime he has begun hedging fuel costs by investing in the futures market and is considering other ways to limit his reliance on fuel. One option is to use more fuel-efficient cars for longer trips or use compressed natural gas vehicles.

Unfortunately, because the company is under contract with school districts, "if fuel goes up it just means our bottom line gets smaller," Scholes says.
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