It’s 2023. Will Oregonians finally pump their own gas?
It is one of two states that have restrictions on the practice.
This could be the year that Oregon joins 48 other states in allowing motorists to fill up their own gas tanks. For real this time.
A bill to allow self-service gasoline in all 36 Oregon counties recently cleared the House and is now in the Senate where one of its prime sponsors is bullish about its prospects.
“I think it’s happening,” state Sen. Janeen Sollman (D) told Pluribus News. “We have really solid bipartisan support.”
Under the bill, gas stations in Oregon’s most populous counties would be allowed to designate up to half of their pumps as self-serve. The other pumps would remain full-serve with an attendant on duty. The price per gallon would have to be the same regardless of self-serve or full-serve.
The bill contains an exemption to the 50/50 rule for Oregon’s 20 rural counties, which since 2018 have had the option to offer self-serve gas 24 hours a day. That change expanded a 2015 rule that permitted self-serve gasoline at night in rural and coastal areas so that drivers would not be stranded.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Oregon temporarily suspended full-serve requirements for everyone. Self-serve pumping was also briefly allowed in 25 counties last summer in the midst of a heat wave.
“The bill accommodates the desires of many who want to fuel their own vehicles, while still being responsive to those who want support in the fueling process,” Sen. Daniel Bonham (R), another chief cosponsor of the bipartisan bill, said in an email.
Oregon and New Jersey are the nation’s holdouts when it comes to prohibiting self-serve gas, a vestige of the 1950s when full-service fueling was the standard. Oregon law cites safety reasons for the rule, including fire hazards, exposure to toxic fumes along with concerns about motorists with disabilities.
Historically, competition among gas stations also fueled opposition to self-service stations. But neither of those reasons stopped most states from switching over to self-service fueling beginning in the 1970s. The fact that Oregon and New Jersey have held out for so many decades reflects the motorist culture in those states.
“I think this falls into one of those — this is the way it’s always been,” Sollman said. “There is a base of constituents that are like, ‘Aah, there’s no way. I’m so against self-serve.’”
Efforts to repeal Oregon’s full-serve requirement date to at least 1982, according to KOIN 6 news. But Sollman said 2023 could be the year the wall of resistance finally collapses. She pointed to a 2021 poll that found 63% of Oregonians support moving to self-serve fueling.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has called self-serve gas a “political third rail.” That has not deterred New Jersey Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D) from introducing a bill to allow gas stations to offer a self-serve option.
“I think it’s a matter of getting people used to the idea,” Murphy said. “It’s something that’s never been done before.”
Murphy is not counting on her bill passing this year, but said she thinks public opinion is shifting in New Jersey in part because wait times to fuel up have gotten longer because of workforce shortages.
“People just don’t want to wait in line,” she said.
It is a similar story in Oregon where Sollman said a shortage of gas station attendants has led to longer lines at the pumps and impatient drivers.
“People are tired of sitting in a line for gas for 15, 20 minutes idling and waiting to do something that they could do very quickly themselves,” Sollman said.
Sollman called the half full-serve, half self-serve solution in urban counties the “Oregon Way” and said it will ensure that people who are disabled or simply do not want to pump their own gas, like her 80-year-old mother-in-law, to still have the option of full-serve.
The bill passed the Oregon House 47-10. Though he voted for it, Rep. Kevin Mannix (R) warned that it could lead to job losses.
“A good thing for those who are buying gas, I trust, but let’s worry about those who are attending those pumps,” Mannix told his colleagues.
But it is the shortage of gas station workers that sponsors of the bill aim to address.
“The self-serve gas bill helps resolve the staffing problem caused by the labor shortage, while taking into consideration the needs of different counties throughout the state,” Bonham said.
If the self-serve bill gets through the legislature and is signed into law, it would take effect immediately as currently written.
But Sollman said it will not affect her much. As a motorcycle rider, she is already allowed to pump her own gas. And when she is not on two wheels, she drives an EV.