Here in New Jersey, there’s no such thing as “self-serve” at the pump.
Anytime someone pulls into a gas station and purchases fuel for their, car, truck, trailered jet ski, fuel can, lawnmower, etc., they will wait for a fuel attendant to perform this task for them. It doesn’t matter how much of a rush they’re in, or how backed up the line for gas may be.
The reason for this odd situation is that it is actually illegal for New Jersey convenience store and fuel business owners to allow motorists to pump their own gas.
As the U.S. approaches ‘full employment,’ does it really make sense to force gas station business owners (in a state that already has one of the highest labor costs in the country) to fill a minimum-paying job that entails standing outside in all weather and dealing with New Jersey drivers?
In a rare spasm of sane, pro-business pragmatism, the New Jersey State Assembly recently introduced the “Motorist Fueling Choice and Convenience Act.” This piece of legislation would allow gas stations the freedom to offer self-serve, and any station with more than four pumps will still be required to offer full service.
I spoke with Colleen Wilson (Twitter: @Colleenallreds) a transportation beat writer for one of the largest news organizations in New Jersey, who recently covered this issue extensively for NorthJersey.com.
Dave Hochman (DH): The self-serve option has been legal in most states since the 1970s. Even long-time fellow holdout Oregon came to their senses in 2018. Why has it taken New Jersey a half-century to even think about catching up with the rest of the country?
Colleen Wilson (CW): New Jerseyans are pretty resistant to the idea of pumping their own gas — it’s a luxury many have come to enjoy, and it’s become a part of the Jersey identity. While some voice concerns about gas attendants losing their jobs and the risk of mom-and-pop shops being overrun by larger gas companies, I think it really comes down to people getting used to not getting out of their cars to pump gas.
DH: Would bringing New Jersey in line with the rest of the country bring any economic benefit to New Jersey residents who don’t own gas stations?
CW: The economic benefits — and losses — are disputed. The recently introduced bill would try to require discounts for residents who choose self-serve, but not all are convinced that that would make for savings in the long-run or if vendors would pass through real savings to customers.
DH: There’s been bipartisan (albeit unsuccessful) efforts to change this in the past.
CW: My colleagues and I tried to get an answer to this exact question last month by calling all of New Jersey’s Assembly members and senators to see if they supported the recently introduced bill. The impression we got? This doesn’t have a chance of passing any time soon.
DH: Will it ever really happen and is there a different way to get this done outside of the state legislature?
CW: Even for some lawmakers who could get behind the bill, there is still a fear of constituent backlash from dialing back full service — and that is keeping them from voting for a hybrid full- and self-service model. Political optics are very much still at play here. As for going around the state legislature, I don’t think that would be possible in this case given that state law is what prohibits motorists from self-service. Perhaps there could be a federal law that bans full service, or something like that, but I don’t see that happening.
Native New Jerseyan David Hochman is a freelance writer and the owner of Monmouth Beach-based DJH Marketing Communications Inc. He pumped his own gas when he lived in North Carolina while serving in the Marine Corps. He can be reached at [email protected].