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Self-serve gas: It's time to let it happen

Don’t look now, but one of those quirky things that makes Oregon unique is being debated again in Salem, and could become a thing of the past.

No, not the income tax “kicker” — that would be too much to hope for, and in any case would require a constitutional amendment. We’re talking about self-serve gas.

Along with New Jersey, Oregon is the last state in the country where you can’t fill your own tank — unless you drive a diesel vehicle, because diesel isn’t subject to the law, or you’re in one of the Oregon counties with less than 40,000 population, where the Legislature decided two years ago to allow self-serve.

This year’s measure, House Bill 3194, would allow gas stations in Oregon to designate up to one-quarter of their pumps as self-service.

Backers say the bill would still require some full-serve, preserving jobs for attendants and giving motorists the option of staying in their cars while gas is pumped for them. Opponents said it would still eliminate jobs and would be another step on the road to allowing all-self-serve stations.

We think it’s long past time to end this quaint but outdated custom, especially because several of the reasons laid out in state law no longer apply.

Fire hazard: 48 states allow self-serve gas, and gas station fires are hardly a common occurrence. Modern gas nozzles are equipped with shut-off mechanisms that prevent spills. Safety is not an issue.

Maintenance: State law says increasing self-serve decreases “maintenance checks by attendants,” resulting in unnecessary and costly vehicle repairs. Everyone who can remember the last time an attendant checked their oil, raise your hand.

Cost: Self-service has not resulted in “a sustained reduction in fuel prices” in other states. Whether that’s true or not, the bill now under consideration would bar stations from charging a different price for self-serve or full-serve. That doesn’t make sense to us. If stations could operate with fewer attendants, why bar them from passing on the savings to customers?

The real reason to allow some self-serve everywhere is convenience and choice. HB 3194 still would require at least 75 percent of gas pumps to be full-serve, so drivers who want that could still get it. Those who would rather save a little time by pumping their own gas could choose to do that. Why not let them?