Tuesday, February 2, 2016

New Jersey’s Still Debating Whether to Legalize Self-Serve Gasoline

New Jersey is one of only two states—Oregon being the other—that outlaws consumers pumping their own gasoline into their own cars. In NJ, repeated attempts to lift the ban have failed. This scenario may once again be playing out, as State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the most powerful democrat in the state, has vowed to block enactment of a bill sponsored by state Sens. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) and Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) that would legalize self-service gas in NJ.

But then again, maybe there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. As New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine observes, the chances for finally lifting the self-serve ban may be increasing to the point that it’s only a matter of time. A changing marketplace that now combines convenience stores and gas stations has encouraged the most powerful special interest roadblock to pump-your-own-gas legalization, the New Jersey Gas Retailers Association—now named the New Jersey Gasoline, C-Store, and Automotive Association—to drop its opposition to self-serve gasoline.

Self-serve gas can not come soon enough for me. I’m used to traveling out of state, so I’ve gotten used to the convenience of quickly getting in and out of gas stations without having to wait for some attendant to get to me. (A gas station attendant has got to be the most useless job in the world. With due respect for gas station attendants, the job offers no economic value, and exists in NJ solely by force of law, not market demand.)

Of course, my own annoyance is not a reason to repeal the ban. It’s a matter of the economic and moral propriety of government interference in our lives and the market economy. Two Star-Ledger  letters published under the heading Self-Serve vs. Full-Serve Gasoline in New Jersey continued the debate. In the first letter, Deborah Cohen complained that a law legalizing self-service would be hard on her because she has young children, and would rather not have to “go out of my car in the cold, in the rain, in the snow, in the heat, in the dark or out in dangerous areas” or “unbuckle the kids (often cold, tired and cranky; I've had small children), then put them back in the car. Who wants to disturb kids who may be sleeping?”

Sounds like a real hardship. I wonder how young mothers do it in 48 other states!

Cohen also complained that, even if service stations maintained pump islands for full-service, the price would be higher than the self-serve islands. “Why should [people who don’t want to disturb the kids] pay more for full service?”

Another letter had a different complaint: It’s just not an important enough issue to waste lawmakers’ time on. Lawmakers should spend their time on more important legislative issues. Bruce Papkin wrote under the heading “Gas debate just smoke and mirrors”:

Is this really what we pay [the politicians] for? Don't they realize that there are "real" problems out there, such as high underemployment which creates tax drains on the state's economy? Or, the easily voted on PARCC test funding that really needed to be analyzed properly and fixed?

This is a smoke and mirrors kind of legislative battle going on to keep our eyes off the bigger problem: financial insolvency. The state is so far in over its head with crumbling roads and bridges, pension shortfalls and more. . .

I left these comments:

RE: Deborah Cohen:

What about people who are willing to “go out of my car in the cold, in the rain, in the snow, in the heat, in the dark or out in dangerous areas?” Or who have no children; or who see no problem pumping gas while their children sit a foot or two away in the car; or who are not helpless elderly; or who are not elderly? Why punish people who are willing to pump their own gas, if the station can legally allow it?

And why shouldn’t people pay more for full service gasoline? They’re getting a service, aren’t they? Paying more for full service, if that is the station’s policy, is perfectly fair to anyone who isn’t infected by an entitlement mentality.

More to the point, what right does the government have to make self-service gasoline illegal? None. Station owners have a right to operate their businesses as they judge best, so long as they commit no fraud and meet appropriate safety standards. This means they should be free to set their own service policies, be it full-serve and self-serve islands, same price for both, extra for full-serve, all full-service, all self-service, or what have you.

As to Gas debate just smoke and mirrors: I beg to differ. The ban on self-service gasoline is a manifestation of the cause of the “real” problems—the politicians’ power to micromanage our individual affairs. Why is the state in charge of the union pensions, rather than the unions? Why are the federal and state governments dictating one-size-fits-all [PARCC standardized] tests? The same reason it forbids self-serve gasoline. I say repealing any law that forbids law-abiding citizens from being self-sufficient—like the ban on self-serve gasoline—is well worth the debate, because the principles apply to so many other areas in which the government tries to run our lives.


As of this writing, the latest attempt to legalize self-serve gasoline has gone nowhere. So, this ridiculous debate will continue, and we NJ drivers will continue spending precious time waiting for attendants to fill our tanks.

Related Reading:

The Koch Brothers and the Nature of Government Regulation

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