Self-service gas arrives in (parts of) Oregon

Until this week, Oregon and New Jersey were the only two states to ban self-serve gas stations. Oregon just ended its ban as to rural counties, despite warnings from defenders of the old law that ordinary motorists might not be up to the task of handling pumps without causing fiery infernos or spills. [Brian Manzullo, Detroit Free Press]

As for New Jersey’s ban, Paul Mulshine wrote a column three years ago exploring its unlovely origins. He explains the oft-remarked New Jersey paradox — the state beats its neighbors on gas price even though all pumps are full-service — by noting that the Garden State has had (until recently) a relatively low gas tax and is located amid refineries and import operations, helping keep transport costs down. More: R.J. Lehmann, 2015.


  • Quite a few years ago I filled up in New Jersey. To my horror, while we waited for the tank to fill, standing between the pump and my car, the attendant smoked a cigarette. So much for the safety advantages of New Jersey gas station attendants.

  • “ordinary motorists might not be up to the task of handling pumps without causing fiery infernos or spills”

    If Oregonians say drivers aren’t up to the task, I suppose it’s most likely true.

    Who knows ordinary Oregonians better than the other kind of Oregonians?

    Good thing cash isn’t explosive – Oregon would have to mandate attendants to help ordinary Oregonians withdraw cash from ATMs.

    I wonder how in the world ordinary Oregonians manage to use the internet to order stuff from Amazon, or pay their bills online? ?

  • “ordinary motorists might not be up to the task of handling pumps without causing fiery infernos or spills”
    Based on my experience, this is a justified concern. While traveling through Utah, an Oregonian stopped me to ask how to pump his gas. I helped (pointed out the buttons and the instructions written on the pump) then left.
    The camera caught the inevitable explosion as I was driving away – my face and the explosion shown in the rear view mirror. The flaming rag I left by the pooling gasoline had nothing to do with it.
    -Mad Max

    But seriously, the guy was completely out of his league. When I hear a friend of mine worshipping the concept of a society with predominantly driverless cars, I think of that experience. Or when I see city slickers in the woods looking for the water fountains, or …

  • Some random comments:

    The headline from the cited article reads “Oregonians freaking out over law that requires some of them to pump their own gas.”

    That doesn’t seem to be the case. (fake news? Fake headline?) No one is required to pump their own gas. No law is forcing Oregonians to pump their own fuel.

    The law says that in counties with less than 40,000 people (which is 18 of the 36 counties) the station may allow self service. It is not a requirement that the stations go to self serve and indeed in many articles, stores are saying they will stay with full serve because of the added costs of new pumps with card readers, etc, as well as their customers like full serve.

    The law also requires that if the station has a retail space and sells items (like coffee) those stations must still be full serve.

    I know that part of this is about Oregonians “freaking out” about pumping their own gas. I remember when self serve islands stood next to full serve islands at my local stations. There were people who freaked out back then as well. People who are mocking Oregon now ether weren’t around “back in the day” or suffer from selective memory.

    Frankly, to me, this is about choice. Forty eight states allow stations to be self serve and people use them. People that don’t like self serve can still go do full serve stations and in doing so, pay more for the service.

    If you like self serve and express that view to the owners of the gas station because you want to pay less for gas or to get in and out of the station faster, that is a market driven choice and not one that should be mandated by legislators.

    The real question is “why not extend the same choice of self serve to the larger counties in Oregon?” The other question is “what does selling coffee in a gas station have to do with self serve or full serve pumping of gas?”

    It would have been better if the legislature had made sure the stations anywhere in Oregon wanted to go self serve had the correct pumps (safety wise) and then said to the public and the stations “you choose.”

    But that won’t happen because too often governments don’t want people and markets to decide anything.