Bills that would have ended the last state-level bans on adults pumping their own gas in Oregon and New Jersey both flamed out this year. A new study purports to show how much the failure of reform is costing drivers.
In March, the Oregon Legislature adjourned without passing a bill allowing gas stations all over the Beaver State to make some of their pumps self-service. Self-service pumps are currently only allowed in smaller rural counties.
Over in New Jersey, another bill similarly allowing gas stations to have some self-service pumps stalled after legislative leaders came out against it in March, reports NJ.com.
On the local level, voters in Arlington, Massachusetts, rejected a proposal to end the community's self-service ban at the annual town meeting earlier this month.
An estimate from Oregon's fire marshal that it would cost an improbable $550,000 to implement the self-service gas reform doomed that state's bill. Meanwhile, Politico's reporting on the Garden State's perennial effort to reform self-service finds that the politics of reform is always an uphill battle. Historically, any leader that tries to put the power to pump in the hands of drivers is soon inundated with angry calls letting them know that "Jersey girls don't pump gas."
By not wanting to take on the political and regulatory costs of reform, politicians from both states are forcing the costs of higher gas prices onto motorists. That's according to a new study from Clemson University's Vitor Melo which finds that bans on self-service gas stations reduce supply and drive up prices.
In 2018, Oregon implemented a slight reform of its full-service mandate by allowing gas stations in counties of 40,000 or fewer people to have self-service pumps. Melo's study used daily gas prices for all gas stations in the state reported to the website Gas Buddy between 2016 and 2019 to tease out what impact the repeal of self-service had on gas prices.
After controlling for counties' levels of unemployment, poverty, and median income, Melo finds that allowing self-service saw gas prices drop in the affected counties by 4.4 cents per gallon. The price decline nets out to $90 a year for a household with three drivers.
"A self-service ban in the retail gasoline market leads to an increase in marginal costs of all gas stations and consequently a reduction in supply," reads the study. "This reduced supply leads to higher prices and lower quantity."
Melo suggests that repealing self-service mandates in urban Oregon and New Jersey would likely put more downward pressure on prices, given that wages are higher in both those areas than in rural Oregon.
Any reduction in the price of gas would obviously be welcomed by motorists suffering from today's record-high gas prices. Station owners would also benefit from having to hire fewer people or being able to redirect existing staff to higher-value tasks.
Once again, that win-win proposition was thwarted by the perilous politics of reform.