Let Them Pump Gas

Oregon and New Jersey are the only states to ban self-service gas stations. Mercifully, this prohibition is starting to fall apart.


For years, Oregon has mandated that all filling stations be full-service—meaning that a station employee must work the nozzle. People who are in a hurry and out-of-state visitors accustomed to self-service are reminded firmly but politely (this is Oregon, after all) to keep their hands away from the pump.

Oregon and New Jersey are the only states to have this restriction. Mercifully, it's starting to fall apart.

In 2015, Oregon legislators passed a bill allowing gas stations in counties of fewer than 40,000 people to offer a self-service pump between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. A 2017 law expanded this carve-out to allow all-day self-service in those counties.

Now legislators are proposing to let people gas up by themselves statewide. In March, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow all Oregon gas stations to designate up to 25 percent of their pumps as self-service. Businesses with fewer than four pumps would be able to make one self-service.

The legislation "would give businesses a choice," says Rep. Julie Fahey (D–West Eugene), one of the bill's sponsors. The change would "help when pumps are very busy and attendants may not be able to keep up with demand."

Sound like a sensible compromise? The mere suggestion has in fact proven controversial with the many Oregonians who like being served at the pump and are all too happy to deny others the right to fill up their own tanks. Mandatory full service creates jobs, they argue, while helping to keep Oregon Oregon.

"All kinds of entry-level jobs are going away," said Rep. Rob Nosse (D–Portland) while testifying against Fahey's bill. He added that the additional gas station jobs created by the current law help to "build a work ethic and build the basic skills to succeed in the working world." Should self-service be allowed to go statewide, "something quirky and charming about our state would be lost."

These arguments are insulting, both to Oregon's entry-level workers and to Oregon itself. The implication is that those currently manning the state's gas pumps are so unskilled that they could secure no other employment opportunities if the government ceased mandating their jobs into existence. Chances are they'll be able to find work that better employs their talents, maybe even at the same gas station.

Meanwhile, the idea that Oregon's quirky charm would be greatly diminished by allowing people to pump their own gas ignores the full spectrum of eccentricities that make the Beaver State unique.