SALEM, Ore. — Oregon, which has loosened its restrictions on self-service fueling, is considering legislation that would further open consumers’ access to gas pumps.
In 2016, Oregon began allowing residents in rural counties with populations of 40,000 or less to pump their own fuel during overnight hours. In 2017, the state further expanded self-service fueling to 24 hours a day for rural residents, beginning in 2018.
House Bill 3194, introduced in late March, would allow gas stations across the state to make up to one-quarter of their fuel pumps self-service, with the remaining 75% reserved for full-service fueling.
The bill’s sponsors consider it as a “compromise solution to a sticky issue,” the Portland Tribune reported.
"I've had this idea in my head for several years as a possible way to give everyone what they want," Rep. Julie Fahey told the newspaper. "It would protect full-service gasoline for the people who really strongly want that—and there are a lot of Oregonians that do—and it would give the option for self-service gas to the people who want that. And it would give business owners the choice."
For consumers, the bill is aimed to make the fueling process more convenient.
"I think all of us have experienced a time when we've pulled up to the gas station and the attendants were very busy," Rep. Daniel Bonham, co-sponsor of the bill, told the paper. “For the times when I felt like I was in a hurry, if there was a pump available, I would love to have that quick access."
Neither Fahey or Bonham would want to completely phase out full-service in Oregon, in part to protect jobs and some consumers’ preference for full-service fueling.
"I really don't want anybody to lose their work over allowing for self-service," Bonham said. "And I think the majority of people still like full-service gas."
"Part of the reason for the 25% number is because you still have to have someone who is out, who is dispensing gas," Fahey said. "That would mitigate the potential job losses."
The bill, which is in a house committee, has its detractors. At a March hearing when the bill was first announced, one legislator warned that further expanding self-service fueling would affect jobs in the state.
"While some people may not view these jobs as glamorous careers, it's honest, entry-level work where people employed doing this work can build a work ethic and acquire the basic skills needed to succeed in a work environment," Rep. Rob Nosse told the paper.
While he voted for self-service fueling in rural counties, he did so for safety considerations. But he believes House Bill 3194 would be a step too far. "What I really think is that something quirky and charming about our state would be lost with this bill," Nosse said. "Oregon would lose part of its culture, part of what makes this state unique."
The only other state to restrict self-service fueling is New Jersey, which has repeatedly considered and then rejected legislation that would legalize the practice.
Some retailers argue that expanding self-service fueling would have labor and equipment considerations for gas stations. Dennis Bryson, an employee at Douglas County Farmers Co-op, a Shell-branded site in Roseburg, Ore., told The News-Review that self-service fueling would mean a big change in payment protocol for customers.
“The biggest change for the customer is going to be when they come in and want a cash sale, they can’t pump their own gas until they pay for it,” Bryson said, noting that at many gas stations in his area, these customers must go into the store to pay.
He said that retrofitting pumps to make them customer-facing for self-service fueling would also be an expense.
“These pumps aren’t set up for self-serve,” Bryson said. “We would have to get a new setup for that.”