One thing that strikes Out-of-Staters as odd as they are driving through New Jersey is the existence of full service gasoline stations. In a country where all but two states (New Jersey and Oregon) have done away with full service gas stations, their continued existence appears curious at best, irritating at worst. Many cannot grasp why New Jersey cannot just “get with the times” and abandon such a redundant service. Many contend that full service gas stations exist due to their protection by the New Jersey state government, another classic example of the big, bad government protecting useless jobs. They view it as a failure of innovation, an outdated and redundant feature. Others, who perhaps have not thought that far into the matter, simply find it annoying. They’d rather just pump their own gas and not have to wait for an attendant to serve them. Ultimately, the question on many of their minds is: “Why does New Jersey not allow people to pump their own gas?” The answer to which many New Jersey residents themselves do not know. Upon looking into the issue, I found the truth of the matter to be rather interesting. And it may come as a surprise to many contenders that the law may NOT, in fact, be so “backward” after all.
The law which prohibits New Jersey residents from pumping their own gas was passed in 1949. The origin of the law is safety. Gasoline is a highly flammable and very toxic substance. Lawmakers felt that such dangerous substances ought not to be handled by those who are not trained to do so. They also sought to protect fuel businesses from damages resulting from accidents and injury. Back in 1949, fuel dispensing technology was far inferior to what exists now. So it was dangerous for untrained persons to handle gasoline. As technology improved and fueling became much safer, self-service stations became more and more popular. So far, only New Jersey and Oregon retain full service stations. But why? If the technology is safe and fuel associates are no longer necessary, why continue such an archaic practice?
There are, in fact, many reasons why.
- Safety. Though the technology has changed, gasoline remains a dangerous substance. It is still safer to leave the handling of gasoline to those trained to handle it. It is also important, for safety reasons, to have someone there to enforce rules against smoking at the pump and leaving one’s engine running while fueling. Additionally, it is important to have someone there to prevent the theft of gasoline or limit the potential for customer-on-customer crime. Most opponents of full service find this logic ridiculous. They see it as a paternalistic state telling them they are “too stupid” to be trusted to fuel safely.
- It is tradition. Pure and simple, New Jersey residents have grown up with full service gas stations, are used to it, and many would not like to see it go. Though it may not be entirely necessary, it is a source of identity and even pride. One may notice the popular bumper sticker which reads “Jersey Girls Don’t Pump Gas”.
- It is cheaper. This may seem counter-intuitive. How could it possibly be cheaper when you have to hire fuel associates? Well, it is. Indeed, New Jersey has cheaper gas than most of the surrounding states. One major reason has to do with state taxation. Because gas stations in New Jersey hire fuel associates, they can pay a lower state tax rate. Gas is not taxed quite as high in New Jersey. Also, stations can take advantage of lower insurance premiums which accompany having fuel associates who are trained to operate a fuel court safely. So when you get gas in New Jersey, not only does someone pump your gas for you (and maybe even clean your windshield), you actually pay less for it. This has been a major factor in the continuation of such laws.
- It is popular. Attempts have been made in the past to alter the law in NJ, but they have failed. It turns out NJ residents enjoy the service, even if it means having to wait a little longer for it. Many do not want to get out of their cars in different extremes of weather. They do not want to get dirtied by the fuel hose. They also enjoy having someone wait on them. Though this is certainly not true for everyone, it is true for many. Opponents claim that the service is by its very nature inefficient. Why would one want to sit at a pump and wait for an attendant (who may get your order wrong) to pump your gas, when one could get out and pump themselves in half the time? It is certainly true that it takes a little longer, but not much. (Can anyone honestly say that they have waited more than 5 minutes to get service? On average, this is very unlikely). The only time it becomes an issue is on extraordinary occasions: holidays, weekends, summer, inclement weather, etc. when it gets abnormally busy. A little patience is all that is required. Also, when one is paying with cash, is it not more efficient to pay the gas station attendant rather than having to go back and forth between the fuel court and the store inside?
- It is fair for the elderly and disabled. It is very difficult and in some cases impossible for the elderly and/or the disabled to be able to pump their own gas. In New Jersey (and Oregon) these individuals have nothing to fear. Outside of these two states, however, getting gas can be a real hassle. Though the disabled are entitled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to have an attendant on hand to assist them in getting gas, this is often hard to enforce. Even if there is someone at a Self-Service station to assist them, they may not be easily tracked down, causing undue stress and anxiety. Is it not more humane to have someone there to assist everyone, especially the elderly and disabled? In this scenario, grandmom and grandpop never have to get out of the car in 100 degree (or 10 degree) weather to pump their own gas. There is someone there to do it for them and help them get on their way.
- It creates/protects jobs. Yes, here it is. The number one reason given for the continuation of this law is the protection of jobs. Throughout the years, as the state government considered repealing the law, they were faced with the prospect of destroying thousands of jobs. Unsurprisingly, this was potentially politically dangerous. Though many argue they are redundant jobs, they are jobs nonetheless. They are not by any means well-paying or dignified jobs, but they are not the worst either. They are especially good opportunities for teenagers and young adults (I’m sure if they asked their parents or grandparents, many readers would learn that it was very common for the generations of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s to own or work at a gas station). It is also another service position in our “service economy”. While not glamorous, the job of the fuel associate has been protected and has thrived.
As you can see, that while the original intention of the ban on self-service in New Jersey no longer holds, a variety of other important benefits have risen to take its place. Full service at a gas station can actually be a fair way to arrive at a win-win situation. One receives service, one pays less, one does not have to worry about their elderly or disabled relatives pumping their own gas, and one can find a potential job in petroleum distribution. For all of this, all one has to do is wait a few extra seconds for the attendant to arrive. The potential for justice outweighs the minor irritation of waiting. This remains an open question and I’m sure there are many who feel differently. I simply felt the need to make the case for full-service gasoline and answer the perennial question: “Why does New Jersey have full-service gas?”.