Fifty-five dollars and eighty-two cents.

That's the cost of doing business for landscaper James Hayes now that gas prices have soared beyond $2.50 a gallon. Every five days, he swallows the steep price to keep his GMC 4X4 truck on the road. He charges it and reminds himself that as a small businessman, he can write it off at the end of the year.

Americans across the nation have bemoaned the rise of gas prices for months now, enduring payouts 40 per cent higher than fuel costs just 15 months ago. The national average price of unleaded fuel now hovers just below $2 a gallon.


And on the Vineyard - where gas prices are always a step above mainland rates - Islanders are taking, as usual, a harder hit. A gallon of unleaded fuel topped $2.50 at nearly all of the Vineyard's nine gas stations last week.

"At this point, it's just a number," Mr. Hayes said, handing his credit card to the clerk at Airport Mobil station one day last week. "I don't really have a choice. I need this for my work."

Parked behind Mr. Hayes, Philip Montford looked straight ahead as the dollar amount rolled swiftly higher at the pump, far outpacing the number of gallons of fuel dribbling into his beat-up work van. He handed a $10 bill to the attendant and left with less than four gallons of unleaded fuel.

"Every time I go to the gas station, I pull in and just get $10 worth," said Mr. Montford, who depends on his 1988 Chevy full-size van to get him around Vineyard worksites. "I try not to think about it."

"Everybody's hollering. That's all I know," said Patrick Jenkinson, whose family owns Up-Island Automotive in West Tisbury. "I just tell people: ‘If you think it's bad buying 10 gallons at a time, try buying 6,000.'"

Middle men like Airport Fuel Services owner Michael Rotondo are feeling squeezed.

"We're the end stage before the customer, and there's only a certain amount you can't pass on to the customer," he explained. Mr. Rotondo said he is making five cents less profit per gallon than he was when unleaded fuel cost only $1.60 a gallon. His distributor hiked prices 31 cents over the last six months and tacked on a fuel surcharge for extra costs associated with hauling a load of gas from Providence to the Island.

Just last week, the distributor increased prices seven cents a gallon. Mr. Rotondo passed on four of those cents to the customer and ate the other three.

The Island's gasoline markup has long been a source of frustration among residents. Retailers blame the cost disparity on everything from the transportation costs associated with getting the fuel from the mainland to the Island to higher overhead costs to low volume sales. No one denies that Vineyard fuel station owners build in a higher profit margin than their peers on the Cape.

In good years, Mr. Rotondo earns a 22 to 24 cent profit per gallon. But those days are gone, he said.

"I've seen customers driving off lately, saying ‘I'm not paying that.' I think ‘where are you going to go?" he said, noting that prices vary less than 4 cents per gallon between Island filling stations.

It's too early to tell how the ripples of a runaway gasoline market will affect the Vineyard. It's likely that Islanders will be paying the price for this spike in fuel costs beyond the pump. Municipalities heavily reliant on vehicles could blow their transportation budgets, and corrections will require a dip into town coffers. Private businessman - from taxi cab drivers to landscapers - might be looking for ways to pass the price on to consumers.

Mario DeBari of Mario's Taxi admits that he and his competitors might consider fare increases sooner than later. Lately he heads to the gas pump every two to three days and pays $45 to fill his Dodge Caravan taxi. He's been charging $15 to haul a passenger from the Airport to Edgartown since 1999. But as gasoline prices continue to climb, he said, "something's got to give."

Only selectmen in the town in which the taxi service is licensed can authorize fare hikes.

Clarence A. (Trip) Barnes 3rd, who owns a moving and freight company, also feels the pinch. Mr. Barnes is forced to shoulder about $1,000 extra in fuel costs he didn't estimate when he bid a load of furniture for someone moving here from California. His furniture moving trucks get no more than five miles to the gallon, so a cross-country trip blew the budget.

"It's just another frustration of doing business," Mr. Barnes said. "This gas problem just throws everything off in the furniture moving business." He will soon add a fuel surcharge to compensate.

While businesses might be making adjustments to deal with high gas prices, consumers seem less willing to break habits.

If more Islanders and tourists are hopping on Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) buses, drivers haven't noticed.

"It's too early to tell. I think it might take more than this to pull drivers out from behind their wheels," said Lois Crane, assistant administrator of the VTA.

Few drivers seem to be pulling their Sport Utility Vehicles or pick-up trucks - which burn anywhere between eight to 16 miles per gallon - off the road. All four vehicles at the gas pump at Up-Island Auto last Thursday morning were trucks. Within 15 minutes at Airport Mobil, more than 10 trucks, vans and SUVs came through the filling station, compared with two cars.

The only ones smiling these days when they pull up to the pump at Menemsha Texaco, said owner Marshall Carroll, are those Islanders driving Hybrid cars.

"I just tell everyone else that our car insurance is less here on the Vineyard, so maybe it's all a wash. I try to make sunshine out of clouds," Mr. Carroll said.

Others trying to put a positive spin on the gas surge recall the crisis of the early 1970s, when fuel shortage forced them to wait in long lines for a limited supply of gasoline.

And Vineyarders can always think of their Nantucket neighbors, who are, as usual, coughing up a few more cents per gallon.