Only two states prohibit motorists from pumping their own gasoline: New Jersey and Oregon. I’m not sure what excuses the powers-that-be use in New Jersey, but here they in-effect warn that “you’ll set yourself on fire.” The ban went into effect in 1951, and the only attempt to end it failed at the polls in 1982.

The Oregonian published a provocative editorial last week making fun of our self-serve ban, but prohibitionists came out of the woodwork to make argument after argument in favor of keeping the ban.

The three most popular arguments for keeping the ban seem to be:

I don’t want to pump my own gas, so you can’t either;

The ban is a good “make-work program” that keeps people employed and tax revenue flowing; and,

Employing attendants doesn’t make our gas more expensive anyway.

First, I don’t want to pump my own gas either, but that doesn’t give me the right to prohibit you from pumping yours. If there is enough demand for station attendants, someone will fill that demand in a free market.

Second, sure, creating jobs is a good thing. But government “make-work programs” often misallocate resources, costing taxpayers more than any tax revenue they might generate.

And third, if labor costs have no impact on prices, then why not mandate one attendant for every pump? Or, mandate one checkout clerk for every customer at the grocery store? Lots of jobs will be created at apparently no cost to consumers; what could go wrong?

In short, it seems that too many Oregonians see our self-serve gas ban as something that makes our state unique. The ban probably won’t end, but it should.

Steve Buckstein is founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

8 thoughts on “Oregon’s Self-Service Gas Prohibition Probably Won’t End—But It Should

  1. I think the folks who like the SQ believe that they would have to pay more to have someone pump their gas, if they couldn’t make others share the cost of the station attendant. Indeed, in most places the option wouldn’t be available. They are probably right. Also many people in Oregon (young ones especially) have never experienced a self-service gas station and they find the prospect intimidating. But it looks like popular opinion may be moving in freedom’s direction. See http://oregonecon.blogspot.com/2014/06/time-to-reboot-push-for-self-service-gas.html

    Actually, both OR and NJ were forced to defend the constitutionality of this prohibition in federal court. NJ lost; OR (Dave Frohnmeyer) won. NJ adopted OR’s defense, appealed and the rest is history.

    1. Thanks for the additional information, Fred. Yes, hopefully popular opinion is now moving in freedom’s direction. That’s a nice phrase; I hope you don’t mind me using it when appropriate.

  2. Your responses to points 2 and 3 are not relevant and I’m bewildered why you would publish them.

    To the second, creating jobs is indeed a good thing. But this is NOT a government “make-work program” thus your argument does not apply. This is in no way a government program.

    To the third, Of course labor costs have impact on prices. BUT to mandate one attendant for every pump is absurd. Jobs are created at little cost to consumers. Simply compare prices to other states where self-serve is allowed: Washington converts any differential to tax revenues–is that what you want?!? More tax revenues would only generate further bloat in government.

  3. I wish I could pump my own gas, it would definitely be faster! I hate waiting 5 min while the one poor attendant is scrambling to help half a dozen people.

  4. In these times when minority rules, I being of a minority group of handicapped that cannot pump my own gas, seriously hope that self-pump doesn’t come here. Just driving across the border (to higher gas prices for self-pump), I waited 20 minutes at a non-busy station for assistance to pump my gas and I had to pay more than the self-pump price which was already higher than Oregon’s prices.

  5. Are you blind? We do have self-service here in Oregon. In 1990 I represented a consortium of gasoline dealers that challenged State Fire Marshal regulations in Multnomah County Circuit Court that implemented the state statute prohibiting self-service at “retail” but under the regulations allowed such at the proliferating number of cardlock dispensing facilities around the state. The judge ruled in favor of the dealers finding that the cardlocks sold and dispensed to the ultimate consumer – just like every other gas station – and, therefore, were “retail” and fell under the same statutory prohibition against self-service.
    This was a devastating blow to the cardlock operators who were making huge sales and profits without the cost of an attendant all at the expense of the standard gas station operators. The strategy of the dealers was to level the playing field and, if possible, to put pressure on the cardlock operators and industry to lobby the legislature the change the law for everyone – all “retail” facilities.
    The cardlocks got a stay pending appeal of the judge’s decision and then went to work in the legislature. That is why we have ORS 480.345 which carves out a special category of self-service ban exemption called “nonretail” in favor of the cardlocks. Now, lest you think this is some very narrow exemption – it is not. Millions of gallons of gas are dispensed in Oregon every year via self-service at “nonretail” cardlock facilities. Just stake out one of the several hundred such facilities in the state on any weekend or even non-business hours and you will see many RVs, family vehicles and lawn mower gas cans (in addition to commercial vehicles described in the statute) being filled by the drivers (there is no attendant) with impunity. This special interest statute continues to serve the moneyed interests of the cardlock operators very well. Self-service is alive and well here in Oregon – you just have to belong to the elite “club” to pump your own gas.

    1. Roger, are you kidding on using a cardlock gas stations? I must be blind, as I have never seen one. So I looked on the internet, it says you have to be a business owner and the fuel must be used for only that purpose. To get gasoline (instead of diesel) it seems you have to go through another hoop. It’s really stupid that such law exist in Oregon. I hate waiting for the highly qualified gas attendent to come do it for me. I want to fill my own, but law says even touching the super complex gas dispencing machine is prohibitted. I have to wonder what’s wrong with those people that are against pumping on your own.

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