On a recent vacation to Montana, gas prices were at $2.08. Medford was at $2.49 to $2.65 for the same period. How much extra are we paying to have someone pump gas into our cars and trucks? What is the extra cost per gallon? This is not full service, as no one checks the oil or cleans the windshield. How much are these people being paid per hour? We should have the right to pump our own gas and take care of other needed services.
— Albert, Medford
There isn't really an accurate way to measure the impact of Oregon's ban on customers pumping their own gas, Albert, but other factors — including the state's distance from refineries and the influence of stringent California environmental rules — have a much greater influence on prices, says AAA Oregon/Idaho Director of Government and Public Affairs Marie Dodds.
"This is a question we get asked every once in a while, but we really don't know," she says.
Even in states that allow people to serve themselves, gas stations still have an attendant on duty to carry out duties like taking payments and running the small convenience stores that typically are part of the station, Dodds says.
On Tuesday, for example, gas averaged $2.83 per gallon in Portland. Just across the border in Vancouver, Washington, gas was at $2.92 per gallon, according to data from AAA.
Oregon often ranks in the top five states for gas prices, while New Jersey, which also bans self-pumping, ranks around 20th, according to AAA.
The whole West Coast — Oregon, Washington and California — usually has the highest gas prices in the nation, along with the distant states Hawaii and Alaska. This week, Hawaii is first at $3.08 per gallon, California is second at $3, Washington is third at $2.95, Alaska is fourth at $2.87 and Oregon is fifth at $2.84. The national average is $2.38. New Jersey is at $2.39, according to AAA data.
"The West Coast is geographically isolated from parts of the country that produce and refine a lot of oil and gas," Dodds says.
In addition, California has the toughest environmental standards for gas in the country, making gas more expensive to produce for that state. Because California is such a big market, gas made using the California recipe typically ends up in Oregon and Washington, too, Dodds says.
Gas prices went higher in Oregon due to heightened travel for the solar eclipse Aug. 21. While most of the country saw only a partial eclipse, a "path of totality" crossed through the middle of Oregon, attracting enthusiasts who wanted to see a total eclipse.
The entire country is seeing an increase in gas prices due to Hurricane Harvey flooding the Gulf Coast region, plus higher demand as Labor Day approaches and Americans hit the road for the three-day weekend, according to AAA.
On average, gas nationwide spiked four cents for the week, while Oregon's average crept up two-and-a-half cents. Oregon will not see as much impact from the Gulf Coast flooding, but is being impacted by the eclipse and Labor Day gas price increases, Dodds said.
The Oregon Legislature did pass a bill this year that allows customers to pump their own gas at some rural gas stations. Isolated gas stations with no attendant on duty at night would shut down their pumps — stranding drivers who needed gas.
The bill allows people to pump their own gas at all hours in Malheur, Union, Wasco, Hood River, Jefferson, Crook, Baker, Morrow, Lake, Grant, Harney, Wallowa, Gilliam, Sherman and Wheeler counties. Drivers in Tillamook, Curry and Clatsop counties can fuel up between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Gas stations with convenience stores still have to offer full-service fueling during business hours.
As for how much gas station attendants make, they earn at least minimum wage in Oregon. Minimum wage is $10.25 in Jackson County and $11.25 in the Portland metro area as of July 1. Most rural counties have a $10 per hour minimum wage under the state's minimum wage law.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Montana, where you recently vacationed, has an $8.15 minimum wage. The California minimum wage is $10 to $10.50 based on company size, and the Washington minimum wage is $11, although workers ages 14-15 can be paid $9.35.
— Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.