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Why Won’t New Jersey and Oregon Let You Pump Your Own Gas?


For more than 60 years, New Jersey and Oregon have made it illegal to pump your own gas. Why?

(Photo Credit: Helen Cook/Flickr)

Some background first. New Jersey banned self-service at gas stations in 1949 and Oregon did so in 1951. Throughout much of the country, self-service was rare until 1970s, but as self-service became the norm, most states and customers embraced it. But, not New Jersey and Oregon — and though they have occasionally flirted with the idea of lifting their self-service ban, it remains in place today.

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The main economic reason behind the ban is jobs, writes Slate‘s Matthew Yglesias. By making self-service illegal, it gives a job to the full-service gas station attendant. If working as a gas station attendant doesn’t seem like a terribly profitable profession, you’re right. The median yearly salary for a gas station attendant is $17,389, according to PayScale.

The economic drawback to full-service is it makes the gas more expensive for customers. But the Garden State has counteracted that by having a relatively low gas tax. The average price of a gallon of gas in New Jersey is $3.37. In Oregon, the average gallon costs $3.68, which is lower than its northern neighbor Washington ($3.71) and much cheaper than its southern counterpart California ($3.99, only Hawaii has higher gas prices).

Beyond economics, having full-service only gas stations also has a cultural implement, Dan Lavey, a public relations executive in Portland, told The New York Times in 2006.

“The joke is when babies are born in Oregon, the doctor slaps their bottom, ‘No self-serve and no sales tax,'” Lavey said. “That about sums it up. It’s as much a cultural issue as an economic issue. It’s a way of life.”

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Should New Jersey and Oregon lift their self-service ban? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Patrick Creaven
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