Self-service gas stations hit roadblock in New Jersey

DRIVE ANYWHERE in New Jersey and you’ll almost certainly see a bumper sticker or car magnet bragging that “Jersey girls don’t pump gas.” For 73 years, New Jerseyans have relied on gas station attendants to fill up their cars and trucks, rather than doing it themselves. It’s a pride for many to say they don’t know how to pump gasoline, which is as much a part of the local identity as pork rolls or salt water taffy on the Jersey Shore.

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Could the Garden State join the other 49 and allow drivers to self-serve? A combination of record fuel prices and a shortage of gas station attendants means the 1949 law change is gaining support, including from state service station owners, who have historically opposed any reform. In the past, high school and college students were happy to take jobs as attendants, which required a day of learning. But now Ebbie Ashabi, who owns two stations and delivers petrol to more than 50 others, says: “We can’t find anyone.

Some station operators pay $17 an hour, $4 more than the state minimum wage, and are still understaffed. They have no choice but to shut down the pumps for hours at a time, causing long queues for those that remain open.

Still, most New Jerseyans like the status quo. A recent Rutgers University poll showed that 73% don’t want to pump gas themselves. Some have outdated notions that pumping is dangerous. Declan O’Scanlon, a state legislator who supports reform, points out that, “It’s absolutely true, Jersey girls are sexier than girls anywhere else.” It is not true that they are more flammable.

This reform would still leave the state with the strictest full-service requirements in America. “We’re proposing to give the consumer choice,” says Sal Risalvato, head of an association representing New Jersey gas stations. That would save 15 cents a gallon, he notes.

Phil Murphy, the governor, called the full service “part of our fabric” and changing it “a political third rail in New Jersey.” Nicholas Scutari, president of the state Senate, is currently blocking the measure, but said if public opinion changes or data shows it will significantly reduce costs, he would reconsider. Most New Jerseyans, pragmatic and skeptical by nature, would agree, says Micah Rasmussen of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “We don’t give something for nothing.”

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This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the title “To pump or not to pump?”