The Wastefulness of New Jersey’s Gas Pumping Restrictions


Driving through New Jersey, we stop for gas and sit for a few minutes until the attendant comes to fill our tank.  My son tells me that is because New Jersey has one of the most wasteful restrictions in the Union: there is no self-service gasoline; all gas must be pumped by an attendant.  This wastes drivers’ time — it’s almost always quicker to pump gas oneself.  The labor of the attendants is thus devoted to generating economic waste and could be spent productively elsewhere rather than in promoting economic inefficiency.

Perhaps at one time the restriction was based, as they usually are, on health/safety, or perhaps on preventing pilferage.  But today, with credit-card pumps and few (no?) cases of people burning themselves pumping their own gas, the restriction has no rationale—other than protecting the attendants’ jobs.

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  1. Hihankara says:

    It is illegal to pump your own gas in Oregon too. One particularly crusty gas attendant explained to me it is because “some…politician’s son blew himself up” but I have no idea if its true!

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  2. Justin Dearing says:

    It used to be dangerous to pump your own gas. Not so much anymore.

    From a gas exposure issue, having a handful of people constantly exposed to gasoline vapors and gas on the skin probably heads to more health problems than having the entire driving population occasionally exposed.

    From a practical perspective, you can usually pump your own gas close to the NY border if you beat the attendant to the pump. Suburban and rural gas station attendants will get mad though.

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  3. Brad Johnson says:

    As someone who grew up in New Jersey, it has always been presented to me as a jobs creation scheme. Because of the region’s oil refining capacity, gas prices are still among the nation’s lowest despite having paid laborers fill the tanks.

    You seem to suggest that eliminating these jobs would allow gas pumpers to work at something more beneficial to society. Since most gas station workers are unskilled immigrants or high school students, I’m not sure that is a reasonable assumption. If those jobs aren’t there, the workers would be displacing other unskilled laborers in other fields. If this recession has taught us anything, it should be that not everyone can have a job just because they want one.

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    • Mike B says:

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      • Jim says:

        And this anecdote becomes data….when?

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      • Mike B says:

        When you live in New Jersey for 20 years and try to figure out why the gas isn’t more expensive due to labor costs.

        Incidentally more and more stations are going nuts with the 10 c/gal cash discount such the the credit price runs able the same as gas costs in nearby states such as Delaware and Maryland. It appears that since Full Service makes cash payments attractive and cash businesses are rather hard to audit, the Full Service law maybe be now promoting tax evasion or money laundering. Oh well, at least they pass the savings onto me :-)

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      • Scott Sanders says:

        When I lived in central NY state, some of the busier (and cheaper) gas stations were full serve only, with the rationale that the attendants help move traffic through the lines faster than self-serve — and hence increase the volume of customers served. This isn’t quite the case in most NJ stations, though, in my prior experience living there.

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    • Eric H says:

      Our government shouldn’t be legislating waste under the guise of “saving jobs.” Our technology allows to pump our own gas so let us!!

      What if the government said we couldn’t lose all those operator switchboard jobs even though current phones allowed us to dial directly? Should we still have to dial an operator to connect us to who we’re calling just so we can save those jobs?

      We should not be afraid of innovation!!

      Btw… I live in Oregon and my wife is tired of me complaining about the gas station labor waste everytime we fill up.

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    • David Zarmi says:

      Actually, a large portioon of the economic benefit would be the millions of hours wasted waiting in line. Environmental benefit – the cars are burning gas the whole time (I know – I’ve been stuck in New Jersey gas lines a few times). And it is hard to believe, but overall getting rid of these jobs would be of benefit. If nothing else, gas and labor would become cheaper in the state, which are now artificially high.

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      • john says:

        How would gas become cheaper? Prices are set on supply and demand of gasoline. In New York, the people have the freedom to pump their own gas. According to you, that is more efficient, and it should be cheaper. it is not. despite having thousands if not millions of gas attendants, gasoline is cheaper in New Jersey than New York.

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  4. Eric M. Jones says:

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  5. JJG says:

    I agree. I also wonder how much the price of gasoline/in-store items would be lowered if the costs of these employees were deducted. Seems like a waste from the gas station owners point of view too.

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    • Cage says:

      New Jersey has some of the lowest gas prices in the country. I can’t believe how short this post is, with no research done into the origins of the law. I always thought the law was created to create jobs, not continued to keep jobs. Everyone complains that the unemployment rate is too high, but now everyone wants to eliminate thousands of jobs?

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      • David says:

        Your right, we need the government to keep us from doing things we can easily do ourselves simply to create jobs: No more taking out your own garbage, making your own food(more waiter/waitress jobs if only eating out is allowed), mowing your own lawn(great for lawn care jobs), driving yourself(more work for taxi companies and chauffeurs), answering your own door(butlers need jobs to), dressing yourself(rich people have been creating jobs by having people dress them for centuries, time we all do our part), sadly these are only slightly more ridiculous than making people not pump their own gas. And to anyone that believes that paying someone even minimum wage to be there during the entire time a business is open just to pump gas is going to save you more on insurance then they cost, if that was the case they would do it everywhere and there would be no need for the law.

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    • Mike B says:

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  6. Steve S. says:

    As a Pennsylvanian, and an part time oil speculator (when I drive through NJ), I have always been fascinated by mandatory full serve policy. I dated a girl who worked in the industry, and she explained that having a gas station attendant pumping customers’ gas results in a lower insurance premium for the gas station owner – thus resulting in a lower price per gallon of gas for the consumer.

    I’ve never felt that it was an inconvenience to have someone else pump my gas, maybe that’s because its a bit of a novelty for a Pennsylvanian.

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    • David Zarmi says:

      It is a novelty and amazing the first time you see it (I’m from Wisconsin and California, but lived in New York for a time). But if you’ve never felt it was an inconvenience, you’ve never tried to catch a flight from Newark and had to wait a half an hour to get gas as the attendant runs from pump to pump manning right pumps ata time, and none of them very well. I am not exaggerating.

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      • Hoodeeni says:

        I agree with David. I am sick and tired of pulling into a NJ gas station and having to wait sometimes more than 5 minutes for an attendant to get to my car to start pumping. In any other state the fillup experience is under 5 minutes. In NJ it’s over 5 minutes and sometimes more like 10 or even 15 minutes. If we didn’t live in one of the most congested states in the country it might be more tolerable, but to have to deal with slow attendants on top of clogged roadways sometimes gets to be extremely irritating. Why not go back to the old model when self-serve started to appear – 1/2 the pumps self serve, 1/2 full serve – you choose.

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    • JustLiberty says:

      It certainly is an inconvenience if you have one unmotivated attendant slowly going amongst 10 or 12 cars when you have 10 or 12 willing and able to do the same job. 20 minutes lost instead of 4. Idiotic.

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  7. Amir says:

    Yes, I live in NJ. It’s a law to create more jobs.

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  8. David Bohannon says:

    These days I live in the mid-Atlantic and have occasion to drive into NJ fairly frequently. One thing I’ve noticed, is that on the whole, gas in NJ is often cheaper than in surrounding states. The rational I’ve been given is that the insurance involved in operating a gas station is significantly less in NJ due to the mandatory full-service requirements.

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    • David Zarmi says:

      If that were true then the gas stations would hire the attendants themselves – n other states, as well. It obviously isn’t, or even if insurance companies would really do that (why???), it apparently isn’t worth the cost of the extra labor.

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