A whole host of reasons are cited for the law that has made pumping your own gas in Oregon punishable by a fine of up to $500. In the statute itself (ORS 480.315), which originates from 1951, reasons cited range from safety and convenience to the “unique” weather conditions in the state, which are apparently completely unlike those we experience in Washington.
However, while the statute doesn’t mention it, it’s most often suggested the whole point of the law is to create jobs. Unfortunately for backers of the law, it seems economics has caught up with their regulation. Gas stations in smaller towns haven’t been able to afford to hire staff and serve their populations, especially during the night. The amendment that begins January 1 will allow counties with populations smaller than 40,000 people to permit drivers to pump their own gas between 6pm and 6am.
Of course, this is more than a tacit admission that the reasons cited in the statute are bogus. If safety really is the reason for the law, then surely someone in a remote area filling their tank at a lone pump at 3am in the morning is putting themselves at far greater risk than say someone at noon at a large and busy Portland gas station where multiple employees and customers can come to their aid. Or if exposure to toxic fumes (another risk cited) is so dangerous at 5.59pm in a small county, what makes it less of a health hazard at 6.01pm?
Similarly, if the law, as it states, is supposed to protect customers with lower incomes “who are under greater economic pressure to subject themselves to the inconvenience and hazards of self-service”, what makes it OK now to subject them to these inconveniences and hazards in small counties at night?
Oregon State University economist Patrick Emerson is cited as estimating that Oregonians pay an extra 3 to 5 cents more per gallon because stations must employ about 9,800 attendants. In other words, far from protecting lower income people, the law forces them to pay for something they may or may not otherwise choose to purchase. And of course, as a percentage of disposable income, they get hit harder than the wealthy for paying for a service they may not want.
48 other states seem to get by safely and conveniently, allowing their residents to pump their own gas or pay for full service when they want to do so. And if this law really is a job creator, why stop there? Why not force cinemas to hire ushers to safely get people to their seats or fast food restaurants to hire staff to serve drinks and take food to tables, to prevent spills and waste?
So two cheers to Oregon’s lawmakers for repealing some of this law. It’s time the rest of the law was dumped too.
Cross posted at Sound Politics