So this is how Oregon residents get the opportunity to pump their own gas: One crack in the wall at a time.
For decades, Oregon and New Jersey have been the only states in the nation that don't allow gas stations to offer self-service pumps. In Oregon, it's become one of the odd quirks that we (sometimes) appreciate about the state: To paraphrase the state's motto, "She Flies on Her Own Wings, But She Lets Others Pump the Gas."
In Oregon's case, the law banning self-service gasoline has been on the books since 1951, and the law lists 17 separate justifications for the ban. Those justifications include some that likely have occurred to you: For example, the ban creates jobs.
However, some of the other justifications seem to be — how to phrase this? — a little silly. For example, the law notes that there is a safety issue involved with gasoline in that it is flammable. It is true that gasoline is flammable. But perhaps you have noticed that your daily news reports and Facebook feeds are not filled with accounts of careless motorists setting themselves ablaze at gas stations elsewhere in the nation.
Legislative sessions in 2015 and 2017 offered the first major cracks in Oregon's ban on self-service gasoline: The 2015 Legislature authorized self-service gasoline at retail outlets in low-population counties between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. in certain circumstances. The 2017 Legislature went a step further by allowing people to pump their own gas at all hours in counties with less than 40,000 residents. As it turns out, though, the law already had a pair of lesser-known exemptions: People who drive motorcycles or diesel-powered vehicles already can pump their own fuel.
This year's crack in the wall could be a big one: House Bill 3194, sponsored by Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, and Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, would allow any gas station in Oregon to designate up to a quarter of its fuel pumps for use by customers who want to fill their own tanks.
Fahey said that she's been kicking around the idea behind the bill for years. "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," she said. "And it would give business owners the choice."
In fact, there is a certain elegance to the compromise, although it would add another level of decision-making for drivers as they pull into the gas station: Full-service this time or self-serve? And considering the way some of us drive, we're not 100 percent sure we're always up to making one more decision behind the wheel.
But it would be fascinating to see how market forces played out if business owners had a choice: How many would opt for the self-service option? Would that give an advantage to gas stations with self-service options or would customers remain loyal to full-service operations? How many jobs pumping gas might be lost? (Although in an economy with record-low unemployment levels, our guess is that managers have an increasingly difficult time finding workers willing to pump gas.)
One thing that probably wouldn't happen if the bill passed the Legislature and was signed into law: It won't result in cheaper gas. (In fact, the bill mandates that self-service and full-service pumps carry the same price.) Even though some studies have suggested that the ban on self-service adds 3 to 5 cents a gallon to the price of gas in Oregon, the bill's insistence that stations maintain some full-service pumps ensures that managers will have to have at least some pumpers on the payroll. And any slight savings on payroll, if they materialize, will not be passed along to you.
There is at least one bit of business that House Bill 3194 doesn't address: If the bill passes, who will break the news to New Jersey? (mm)