If there is one thing that completely drives me crazy about Portland, it’s Oregon’s ban on pumping one’s own gas. For those of you who haven’t been here, it’s one of two states in the Union that prohibit motorists from fueling their own cars. (The other is New Jersey.)
This gas thing is a disaster, both here and in NJ. Gas station owners don’t want to have to provide full service. These gas attendents exist solely by government edict. So the stations only have one or two guys working at a time. You’ll see big gas stations with five or more islands, most of which are blocked off with orange cones since they’ve only got one pump jockey. So you get in line behind the other cars and gaze longingly at all the open (but verboten!) gas pumps. When I lived in Virginia and had to make trips to New Jersey, the lines on the New Jersey Turnpike went on forever.
What’s the point of all this? The idea was that back when these laws were passed, filling your tank was a dangerous exercise that only trained professionals could handle successfully. I mean, look at the havoc that’s occurred in the other 48 states where untrained auto owners pump about 100 billion gallons every year. I myself lost a close, personal (well, fictional) friend to a bizarre squeegee accident in ’71.
Today? Who knows. Certainly there’s the argument that removing the ban would throw thousands of gas pump attendants out of work. (Cars, buggy whips, blah blah.) Some also seem to think that motorists in their state are just too stupid. From a USA Today article last year:
Bill Dressler, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Association and Allied Trades, says there are safety concerns. While attendants are trained, many motorists would be novices. “It could be put in the wrong container,” says Dressler, whose group represents about 2,200 of the state’s 3,800 gas stations. There could be “somebody getting out and smoking and they didn’t turn the engine off.”
Um, is Bill really concerned that people are going to put gas into the wrong hole? Or is he talking about somebody trying to fill up a milk carton or something? I’m not sure. The part that gets me really riled up, though, is the talk of “trained” attendants.
In New Jersey, the attendant would routinely ask if I wanted him to “top it off” — which you probably know you aren’t supposed to do. Even after I said no, there were a couple times when my refueling professional would fill the tank until the gas ran out onto the ground. I’ve never seen anyone top off their tank, anywhere, except for the highly trained New Jersey guys.
Environmentally conscious Oregon is no better. In June, 2001, Oregon granted motorcyclists the right to pump their own gas — but the pump still had to be operated by the gas attendant, handed off to the motorcyclist, and handed back to the attendant. Every time I ride up to a gas pump, while I’m taking off my gear, the pump attendant helpfully comes over and drains the all the fuel from gas hose onto the ground!. I rarely get a chance to stop them. Again, just like topping it off in New Jersey, I’ve never come across anyone who does this except for the guys that Oregon requires to handle the pumps. Every motorcyclist I know is more than capable of filling the tank without spilling gas on it.
If the biggest environmental hazard coming out of pumping gas is the ban on self service, maybe it’s time to drop it. But it’s a surpisingly volatile topic — I’m constantly surprised at how locals who have lived here their whole lives hate the idea of self-service gas stations.
And, of course, there’s always the logic of out-of-touch New Jersey politicians. From the USA Today link:
Assemblyman Francis Bodine…. says, “If I’m in a tux going to a black tie (event), I don’t want to stop and handle a gas pump.”
Yeah, Francis. I hate when that happens. My limo driver always ends up smelling like gasoline.