illustrations by Paul Harris

In 1951, Oregon enacted a statewide ban that prohibited self-serve gas. Oregon joined New Jersey, the only other state that prohibits patrons from pumping their own gas. The rationale written into the law encompasses everything from potential higher insurance rates for gas companies to the dangers of “crime and slick surfaces.” In 1982, Oregonians tried unsuccessfully to repeal this law. Who pumps citizens’ gas remains a perennial cause for some Oregonians who hope to repeal it and join the other forty-eight states with self-serve gas stations.

Steve Buckstein
Senior Policy Analyst and Founder, Cascade Policy Institute

You’ll set yourself on fire! That, in effect, is the first reason listed in Oregon statutes to ban self-serve gas. Of course, drivers in forty-eight other states would beg to differ.

The three most popular arguments for the ban seem to be: I don’t want to pump my own gas, so you can’t either; the ban keeps people employed; attendant compensation doesn’t raise our gas prices anyway.

First, I don’t want to pump my own gas, but that doesn’t give me the right to prohibit you from pumping yours.
Second, while creating jobs is good, “make-work programs” often misallocate resources, making our economy poorer rather than richer.

And third, if labor costs have no impact on prices, then why not mandate one attendant for every pump, another to clean every windshield, and a third to put air in every tire? Lots of jobs would be created at apparently no cost to consumers. What could go wrong?

One out-of-state visitor suggests Oregon could create even more jobs with three simple laws: outlaw direct-dial phones, prohibit self-service elevators, and ban word processor programs. Just think of all the operator and secretarial jobs that would open up.

Seriously, we’re beyond feeling sorry for all the blacksmiths and buggy whip makers put out of work with the advent of our modern horseless carriages. We now need lots of auto and diesel mechanics, who earn good money.

Jobs should add more value to the economy than they consume. Therefore, less productive jobs must be replaced by more productive ones. Often, this means replacing muscle power with brain power. It’s time we got on with the process and ended Oregon’s prohibition of self-serve gas.

If that results in more human immolations, we’ll just have to hire more firefighters!

Phil Hirl
Former engineer for the U.S. Forest Service

I have lived in Oregon for most of my life, and so has my wife, except for the five years we lived in Redding, California. So we are accustomed to having someone else pump our gas.

I like that Oregonians do not have pump-their-own gas. I think many other Oregonians feel the same way, because we have voted more than once to keep this law. I have several reasons.

It rains a lot here in Oregon. I don’t like pumping gas in the rain. The same is true for cold weather. It’s nice to stay in a dry, warm car while someone else pumps your gas.

I also don’t think gas would be cheaper if we pumped our own. Self-serve gas in both California and Washington costs more, most of the time.

Pumping your own gas can be dirty and smelly. My work took me up to Olympia. One time while I was pumping gas in the company car, it splashed out on my clothes. I walked into the meeting smelling of gas.

When I do have to pump my own, hopefully my wife is with me because it seems every station has a different pay system. Most of the time I need her help to figure out how each one works.

We have a son who lives near Olympia. When we go there we try to leave home with a full tank so we don’t have to fill it until we get home.

What happens to people who either physically can’t or find it very difficult to pump their own gas?

Some people argue that if you don’t want to pump your own gas, you can have it pumped for you, but places I have seen take that route charge a lot more. So it’s not really a good option.

I worry that as we have more people move to Oregon, they may force us to change. There are some of those people who can’t seem to understand why we like it that we do not have to pump our own gas. If it comes to a vote again, I will vote again to not change.

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