WALL TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Fuel retailers in New Jersey are asking the state’s governor for the right to offer self-service fueling as fears over COVID-19 transmission grow.
New Jersey and Oregon are the only two states in the country that prohibit self-service fueling. Oregon recently suspended enforcement of its ban on self-service fueling for retailers who meet certain conditions; it occurred after operators in the state complained about labor shortages from employees who were sick or refusing to work during the pandemic.
Fuel retailers in New Jersey, which ranks second in the country for confirmed COVID-19 cases, are asking for a similar suspension. The New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience, Automotive Association (NJGCA), Wall Township, N.J., which represents hundreds of independently owned fuel retailers in the state, sent a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy the week of March 23 explaining the danger that gas station attendants face and asking for a temporary suspension of the self-service fueling ban.
In a statement laying out the group's position, Sal Risalvato, executive director of NJGCA, cited a member survey that highlighted several coronavirus-related concerns. Members said gas attendants do not feel safe interacting with customers who may be carrying the virus because they cannot follow the recommended 6-foot distancing guidelines while fueling vehicles, and motorists have expressed the same concern about interacting with possibly infected gas attendants.
“There have been many instances in which motorists have insisted on pumping their own gas and have refused to allow attendants to even touch their credit cards,” Risalvato said.
While gas attendants could wear gloves while handling customers’ credit cards and avoid touching their face to avoid transmitting the virus, “the virus will presumably continue to live on the attendant’s gloves and perhaps attach itself to the card of every subsequent motorist who comes in afterward,” Risalvato said. (The risk of transmitting the coronavirus by touching fuel dispenser handles is also a popular topic of discussion.) Operators are having difficulty staffing their sites, he said, even as fuel sales have dropped more than 50%.
“A temporary suspension of the laws that prohibit motorists from pumping their own gas would allow motorists to fill their own tanks and take their own hygienic precautions in order to avoid spreading coronavirus," Risalvato said. "This is as simple as providing sanitizing wipes for customers to wipe gas nozzles, which is exactly what grocery stores are doing with shopping carts.
“This is not a problem that our neighbors in New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania have had to deal with; it is a uniquely New Jersey problem that only you can address,” he said. “I believe that should you take the action that I am requesting. It will prove to be another demonstration of just how serious your efforts are to persuade New Jersey citizens to avoid physical interaction whenever possible.”
In a tweet on March 30, however, Murphy said the self-service ban remained in effect. “PLEASE NOTE: We have no plans to turn our gas stations into self-serve at this time. Please DO NOT pump your own gas.”