Lawmakers reignite long fight to let New Jersey drivers pump their own gas
In a state often maligned for its traffic, taxes, and more, Jersey’s list of unique advantages is short but compelling. Wherever you go, you’re less than 100 miles from the ocean. You could meet Bruce Springsteen at any time. And you never have to pump your own gas.
But several legislators seek to upset this last luxury. They introduced a bill on Monday, dubbed the Motorist Fueling Choice and Convenience Act, to allow customers to fuel their own cars.
Motorists in New Jersey have been prohibited from doing so since 1949. That’s when lawmakers fearing fuel fire hazards passed the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act, which requires attendants to gas stations to fill the tanks.
Efforts to overturn the ban are almost as old as the law itself, with gas station owners unsuccessfully challenging it in the state Supreme Court in 1951 and state lawmakers fighting unsuccessfully to introducing self-service gas stations in New Jersey since at least 1981.
What makes current lawmakers convinced that this time is the charm?
“There are savings to be made here, substantial savings – the industry says 15 cents a gallon,” said Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth), a longtime champion of self-service refueling. “We have a fuel cost crisis right now, some would say, so why don’t we do everything we can to give people the opportunity to reduce what they pay for gas?”
According to the AAA, states with gas to pump don’t necessarily have lower gas prices. The group puts the average gas price in New Jersey at $3.66 a gallon, lower than $3.76 in Pennsylvania. The average is $3.60 in Maryland, $3.61 in Delaware, and $3.81 in New York.
The latest legislation would allow petrol stations to offer full service, self-service or a combination and offer self-service customers a discount. And it would prevent counties or municipalities from requiring or prohibiting self-serve options.
His main sponsors in the Assembly are Carol Murphy (D-Burlington), Ned Thomson (R-Monmouth) and Annette Chaparro (D-Hudson). O’Scanlon plans to introduce an identical version of the bill in the Senate.
Critics of self-service refueling say it eliminates jobs and challenges drivers who are elderly, disabled or have other mobility issues that could make self-service difficult. Some critics still dwell on the security concerns that led lawmakers 73 years ago to ban self-service.
O’Scanlon noted that current legislation requires gas station owners to provide full service if they have more than four pumps.
“There’s an overreaction that they think we’re going to pull their full serve, which we’re not. It never was,” he said.
On the impact of self-service on jobs, he added: “We have a labor shortage, if people don’t notice it. These service stations cannot find people to work.
Under the new legislation, stations would be required to create a ‘call facility’ to ensure disabled or infirm customers could always call an attendant to refuel their car (at self-serve prices).
And on safety concerns, O’Scanlon said, “The only reasonable way to make a safety argument is to suggest that people in New Jersey are more flammable than people in other states, than funnel cakes The greasy, cheesy fries and sidewalk pizzas we eat permeate our bodies and make us more likely to flare up. I’m pretty sure that’s not true.
He added, “New Jersey has a history of unscrupulous indulgence in baseless boogeymen.”
New Jersey is a national exception on this issue, he pointed out. Oregon is the only other state to have clung to a ban on self-service refueling, but Oregon lawmakers are now considering legislation to repeal it after lifting some restrictions in 2015 to allow residents rural areas of the state to pump their own gas, and again temporarily last summer during a heat wave.
“This is a logical and beneficial reform that has been passed in 49 other states,” O’Scanlon said. “Are the roads in 49 other states littered with cars full of the skeletons of people who didn’t know how to get gas in their cars themselves? No.”
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