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.


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!

Justin Dearing

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.

Brad Johnson

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.

Mike B

NJ style gas stations almost universally lack an attached convenience store. So in other states the gas attendants sell snacks and beverages. In NJ they just sell gas so the amount of labour stays exactly the same. The loss to the consumer is the ability to one stop shop for impulse junk good with their gas. In light of the obesity epidemic is this really such a bad thing?


And this anecdote becomes data....when?

Mike B

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 :-)

Scott Sanders

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.

Eric M. Jones

...and the reason I am not allowed to do YOUR job is...?


You haven't got a medical license and would probably kill someone if you tried?


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.


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?


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.

Steve S.

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.

David Zarmi

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.


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.


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

David Bohannon

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.

David Zarmi

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.

Maureen Fox

I wish we could get rid of all those useless jobs, maybe then we could get unemployment up to 35, 40% maybe more! Some things I admittedly prefer to do myself, but it's getting to the point where retailers are eliminating all those cashier jobs, and service has suffered, all for what? Higher profits? Higher return on investment $? Do we even see, as a society, where this is leading us?

Steve S.

Sounds like an argument from a Luddite.

Navneet V.

Living in southern NY, I do find it very annoying that if we drive a mere 5 minutes south, we have to waste another 5 minutes for an attendant just to get gas that is cheaper.


Poor baby! You have to wait 5 minutes for gas that is 15-20% cheaper!

cp crowell

Gas in NJ is cheaper on average than anywhere else in the country. Employing people and providing a service which does not hinder costs is irrational? Your time is THAT important that you can't wait but you have the time to publish your opinions online? Plan your time a little better so you can have time to think intelligently before you write!

Enter your name

Gas is cheaper in NJ because the NJ legislature chooses to have lower taxes on it than the surrounding states. I believe that the NJ gasoline tax rate was 14.5 cents per gallon last year. There are only two or three states in the Union with lower rates (Alaska is one of them). New York's tax rate was more than three times that.

The first 30 cents in price difference between NY and NJ is due solely to NJ choosing to have lower taxes. If you're not saving at least 30 cents a gallon by driving across the border, then that suggests that the business expenses are higher in NJ -- possibly due to the mandatory low-skill employment law.


This creates jobs! It's effect on safety may or may not bear out - it would be an interesting study to read.

Also, New Jersey is not the only state with this restriction; at least Oregon also requires this.


What about the wastefulness in NJ's neighbor PA? I am a native Pennsylvanian that spent 8 years in Virginia and I cannot express how frustrated I get when I need to buy beer. In PA, you must buy any beer greater than 144oz at a Beverage Distributor. You can buy six and twelve packs from various restaurants (usually pizza shops) or Wegmans, which has gotten plenty of flack for it. The distributors, well, they only sell cases and kegs - that's it. Talk about antiquated, inefficient, and absurd! Change the laws!!


As a European, whenever I travel to the States I am amazed afresh at the number of people doing jobs that, frankly, just don't need doing. Last week at JFK I waited in a long queue for taxis. Part of the cause was that THREE people were employed to 'organise' the taxis as they came in and out of the rank. The resulting overkill of whistling, waving forward approaching taxis, and lecturing drivers who dared to pull in too close to / far from the kerb made the whole process incredibly slow - not to mention frustrating as hell for the people waiting for a cab. The drivers surely would have earnt more - and each passenger waited less - had those three people been sacked.


I have to disagree with you on the utility of taxi line attendants. I just flew into Boston from Newark on a flight that was significantly delayed, and arrived well past the time that public transportation basically shuts down (12:30am). For people who did not drive to the airport, this immediately limited your transportation options to the taxi, and the number of people who needed taxis quickly overwhelmed the available supply. The taxi line attendant actually went through the whole taxi line and grouped people into taxis according to destination, which caused for the line to move faster than other taxi lines I've seen in other parts of the world (NY, LAX, parts of Japan).

Under your scenario, while some may have reduced their wait times down to nothing, I believe the vast majority of people would have been stuck waiting for longer periods. Then as new taxis arrived, there would be a potential of having to do battle with others to get the taxis as they showed up, assuming there is no line and people are trying to call taxis individually. I also doubt that as many would have self-organized into taxi sharing arrangements, while I don't dismiss the possibility that some would have.



This law makes some sense between November and March when the wind is howling.


Right, but your argument hinges on the opportunity waste of drivers' lost time (and its inherent value) dwarfing that of economic cost of fewer jobs and less widespread wealth, for gas station attendants.

Lord knows that savings wouldn't be pumped anywhere but Big Oil's pockets.


I live in Oregon and I never wait for an attendant more than about a minute to get my gas pumped. It's certainly worth my time to not have to get out, get my hands dirty, etc.

I'd be interested in knowing if insurance costs are actually lower if attendants pump the gas.

Rarian Rakista

They are, they also used to make car insurance lower when leaded gas was still around because people could mix up the pumps. Not so much anymore.

It costs a bit more to insure a gas station in Washington than Oregon but a lot more in California. That is why in extreme Southern Oregon/Northern California towns all of the gas stations are on the Oregon side.

Steve Nations

I don't think this is correct. When leaded gas was available, the sizes of the discharge nozzles was different, so that you couldn't put the nozzle for leaded gas into a car that required unleaded gas.

Enter your name...

The diesel nozzle is slightly larger today but some unbelievably committed (or stupid) people still manage to get the tip of the nozzle into the tank receptor and ruin their engines.


If it is to create jobs then NJ should eliminate ATMs. That would create a lot of bank teller jobs!

It really is ridiculous to think that the rest of the population can be trusted to pump their own fuel, but not people from Jersey.


My wife and I used to go to a more expensive station (in Southern Europe) for the full service which we preferred. It no longer exists. It seems that either all stations are full service by law, or none of them are due to (perceived) economic benefits.

For those not accustomed to the benefits of a full service station, consider my usual routine up until the neighborhood station closed: Drive up, hand the keys to the attendant (remember - he was my neighbor), go have a coffee and a muffin, come back to the car and pay the attendant, drive off. This is much better than self service, any day.

If you haven not learned how to use a full service station in the correct manner (and thus failed to obtain the benefit), then you should write a post entitled "Please educate me, I am ignorant".

Oh, I forgot to mention that the attendant cleaned my windshield for me, free of charge, EVERY TIME. How much more expensive was the gas? About 2 cents per liter. Did I tip? Certainly!


Dan Santo

And of course all full-service stations are exactly like the one in your anecdote, and of course everyone has that much time to spare and are never in a hurry, and all gas stations have muffins and coffee, and those things are always delicious at gas stations everywhere.

Here in NJ virtually none of the stations have anything like a muffin and coffee (at least not that I would want to eat). While it must be nice to be able to take 15 minutes to get your gas tank filled, I would rather have that time available for things I would enjoy much more than sitting in a grimy gas station eating a nasty muffin and grimacing on the gas-station coffee.


Hardly anyone smokes anymore. What are you going to light the gas with? Rub sticks together?


People who go in to buy lighters but no cigarettes shouldn't be allowed to pump their own gas.


At a time when the economy is at or near full employment, then yes this law would be ineffecient for providing a job with relaively low productivity. But the current unemployment rate in NJ is 9.3% and probably much worse for the cohort of the average gas station worker. So the alternative is no job at all. Is pumping gas really less productive than sitting on your butt collecting unemployment?
If inefficiencies arise from waiting at the pump, then maybe we should hire more attendants.
When UE falls back to the 5-6% range, NJ should scrap this law, but untill then we should be looking for any way we can to create jobs.