SALEM, Ore. -- Oregon has taken another step toward loosening its self-service fueling restrictions, which places it alongside New Jersey as the only state to forbid the practice at least in part.
In January 2016, Oregon began allowing residents of rural counties—areas with a population of 40,000 or less—to pump their own fuel between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. The motivation behind the move was to provide residents of these rural areas overnight access to fuel without forcing gas stations to provide 24-hour staffing, which could be expensive and challenging in sparsely populated areas. Eighteen counties in the state qualified for the relaxed restrictions. Then in 2017, the state legislature voted to further broaden the self-service option to 24 hours a day for these rural residents, beginning in January 2018.
Oregon newspaper The Bulletin spoke to local c-store retailers before the new, relaxed regulation went into effect and found mixed reactions. Jeffrey Honeywell, owner of two Shell-branded sites in counties affected by the law, was prepared to offer self-service all day.
“We are going to take advantage of it,” he told The Bulletin. “But we will have someone where there are people that are going to need assistance.”
Some gas stations contacted by The Bulletin either had not heard of the new law or did not believe there was demand for it.
“Honestly, I don’t think we’re going to make a change,” said Shelby Perkins, a cashier at a 76 branded station in Prineville, Ore. “Our regular, longtime customers love coming here and talking to us while we pump their gas.” She also did not believe many customers knew how to operate a fuel pump.
A couple of retailers said they would continue to provide full-service fueling because their dispensers are not set up for self-service.
“My equipment is not set up for credit cards,” said Justin Bidiman, owner of Metolius Market in Metolius, Ore. “So we don’t have any way of recording the gallons.”
What might have been a local story, however, quickly became national news after a TV news station’s Facebook post went viral. KTVL News in Medford, Ore., asked its followers if they thought Oregon should allow self-service across the state. A few responses reflected the anxiety that some Oregonians had about the practice.
“Not a good idea,” commented one Facebook user. “There are lots of reason to have an attendant helping, one is they need a job. Many people are not capable of knowing how to pump gas and the hazards of not doing it correctly. Besides I don't want to go to work smelling of gas when I get it on my hands or clothes.”
“I don't even know HOW to pump gas, and I am 62, native Oregonian,” said another. “I say NO THANKS! I don't want to smell like gasoline!”
“Disabled, seniors, people with young children in the car need help,” said a third. “Not to mention getting out of your car with transients around and not feeling safe too. This is a very bad idea. Grrr.”
As of press time, the post had been shared nearly 64,000 times and had more than 57,000 comments, the majority from out-of-state residents who ridiculed Oregonians for not knowing—or wanting to know—how to pump gas.
New Jersey News
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, a state lawmaker is weighing whether to reintroduce legislation that would allow self-service fueling in the state, which has been outlawed since 1949. Assemblyman Declan J. O’Scanlon Jr. (R) has been a longtime critic of the self-service ban and told The New York Times that he often pumps his own gas, regardless of the law.
“It’s ridiculous,” O’Scanlon said. “If I want to pull in, get in and out quickly, I should be able to do so.”
O’Scanlon co-sponsored a bill two years ago that would permit self-service fueling, but the legislation went nowhere. In 2009, Gov. Chris Christie (R) proposed the change but dropped the idea after strong negative response from the public. A December 2015 poll found that nearly 75% of New Jerseyians preferred full-service fueling, including 84% of women.