New Jersey weighs lifting ban on self-service gas amid high gas prices

At a small gas station in South Jersey, Shafin Poirier was sitting in her car when the attendant finished refueling her tank.

While she knows how to pump up her gas, “I want to? No, said Poirier. She pointed to the cold April rain outside.

About New Jersey’s 73-year ban on pumping its own gas: “I like the way it is,” Poirier said.

New Jersey and Oregon are the only two states where drivers are not legally allowed to refuel, although the ban in Oregon has been eased. rural areas. In both this year, lawmakers have introduced bills that will change that.

In the State Garden, at “Law on the choice and convenience of motorists at the gas station” would allow all gas stations to offer self-service. Those with more than four pumps should still have a full range of services from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The bill will also allow stations to lower the price for customers who pump their gas. Oregon’s score didn’t make it out of commission until the end of this year’s short legislative session.

In New Jersey, gas station owners say the move will help alleviate labor shortages and lower prices, but many drivers and politicians are still afraid to change practices that have become a source of pride.

“Every day is a challenging situation, whether an employee shows up or not,” said Roger Verma, who owns 11 gas stations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

COVID-19 has greatly complicated work that is already difficult to fill, said Sal Rysalvato, executive director of the Gasoline Convenience and Automotive Association of New Jersey.

“I have members on busy roads that they have to close, sometimes for a couple of hours in the afternoon, because the shift is coming to an end and they have no one to cover,” he said.

Employment at gas stations fell sharply at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, but largely recovered, according to Bureau of Labor Statisticsalthough the return is not as reliable once you remove the chapters from the picture.

Rysalwata, whose group supports the new bill, knows the measure faces stiff opposition. His group primarily sought a ban many years ago.

“It has become a matter of honor.”

In the late 1940s, the owner of a gas station in Hackensack began allowing drivers to help themselves by lowering prices from 22 cents a gallon to 19 cents, according to the Association.

“His rivals from the gas station were in the fight because he stole all their customers,” Rysalwata said, so they ran to his group, which successfully lobbied the legislature to ban the practice.

Efforts have been made periodically to lift the ban, including several times in the 1980s, when gas prices rose sharply after the 1979 oil crisis and remained higher on average. US Department of Energy.

The late State Senator Gerald Cardinal has often advocated for self-sufficiency, including in a 1981 article in the New York Times, where he made general arguments against pumping his own gas, such as that it was too dangerous.

“The executive director of the State Association of Gasoline Retailers said he was concerned that consumers inadvertently burned themselves to death because they were likely to pump gasoline while smoking. Insurance companies disagree » he wrotenoting that insurance premiums at full-service and self-service stations are about the same.

These efforts failed, and independent gas station owners continued to oppose the change, fearing it would give oil companies that own many major gas stations too much power, according to hearings. Other issues included accessibility for drivers with limited mobility and the safety of pumping their own gasoline at night.

For years, New Jersey drivers also enjoyed cheaper gas prices than their neighbors, due to lower than average gas taxes. Full-service gas at a low price has become part of the culture, with bribes, Rysalwata said.

“Bumper and T-shirt sticker [saying], ‘Jersey Girls Don’t Pump Gas.’ And it has become a matter of honor, ”he said.

In 2016, that started to change. Then the governor. Chris Christie raised the gas tax for the first time since 1988. New Jersey now has some of the highest gas taxes in the country, reports American Petroleum Institute. AAA gas price figures show that Garden drivers pay a a few cents less than the national average.

If self-service were allowed, New Jersey gas station owners predict they could afford to lower pump prices from 7 to 23 cents a gallon, according to a survey conducted by the New Jersey Gasoline Convenience and Automotive Association.

Verma, the franchise owner, said he understands why residents may doubt this will happen. But if only one station lowers the price of self-service gas, others will follow suit, he said. “Competition will do it automatically. Prices should be reduced. “

“Third political rail”

So far, Garden State’s top politicians have not passed the bill – although they have not completely rejected it.

“Self-service gas, it was the third political rail in New Jersey that I haven’t crossed historically,” Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy told press briefing after the announcement of the bill. But he left open the possibility of supporting the bill if it could make life in New Jersey more accessible to residents.

“Given that gas prices have now averaged more than $ 4 a gallon … I need to understand what impact this will have,” he continued.

Before it gets to the governor’s table, the bill will have to defeat Senate President Nicholas Scooty to be able to pass.

“At this time, I do not support the self-service offer,” Scooter said in a statement. “However, if the mood of the population changes or there is evidence that this is a drastic cut in spending, I would reconsider.”

According to the last two polls, public opinion is different. A March 9 Rutgers-Eagleton poll found that 73% of respondents prefer it someone else is pumping their gas. But next Monmouth University poll found that the majority of New Jersey residents, 54%, support self-service fuel, while the gas station is still on duty duty officer who provides a full range of services. The same poll found that 70% would choose to pump their gas if it cost 15 cents less per gallon than the full service price.

Kay Robinson said she was worried about hiring service workers while waiting for her husband to leave the Camden County store. Many of her friends pumped gas as she grew up.

“I don’t know how much it pays now, but then it was a good job,” Robinson said. “Where will they go now?”

NPR approached several employees, none of whom agreed to quote him in the record. Some have not heard of the bill. Of those who had, some believed it could hurt their employment, while others said they would most likely just be transferred to another gas station job.

Robinson said she noticed many stations with closed lanes due to staff shortages. In this case, they should be able to allow customers to inflate, but only if full service is still available. About the new bill, Robinson said, “I don’t like it.”

She said getting rid of full-service stations would change her outlook on life in Garden State.

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