Some N.J. gas stations lower price to demonstrate self-serve savings at the pump

Orange cones at the Lukoil gas station on Route 1 South in West Windsor altering motorists that the gas pump would be open for self-service if New Jersey allowed it. It was part of a demonstration to support a bill in the Assembly that would allow a self-serve option. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

Orange cones at the Lukoil gas station on Route 1 South in West Windsor altering motorists that the gas pump would be open for self-service if New Jersey allowed it. It was part of a demonstration to support a bill in the Assembly that would allow a self-serve option. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

More than 75 gas stations across the state lowered their fuel prices Friday to demonstrate the savings that would be passed on to customers if allowed to offer self-serve petrol.

Some of the drivers who pulled up to the pump at one of those stations, Lukoil on Route 1-South in West Windsor, saw a sign notifying them that the price at the pump reflects a 10-cent discount.

“This is what you would save if New Jersey allowed a self-serve fueling option,” it said.

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Without the discount, cash customers would be paying $4.59 a gallon, while credit card customers would be paying $4.69 a gallon.

Orange cones, indicating that the pumps were not open, held signs that said, “This pump would be open if NJ allowed SELF-SERVE fueling.”

A sign alerting customers of a 10 cent discount to reflect the savings that would be passed on to them if New Jersey allowed self serve gas. It’s part of a demonstration in support of a proposal in the legislature that would undo a prohibition that has been in place since 1949. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

The attendant on duty, Adolph Wilson, gives a small flier to every customer that he serves. An image of a $100 bill on one side with the Fuel Your Way NJ logo in lieu of Benjamin Franklin on one side, and a message on the other side that said, “Motorists could save $100-400 annually if New Jersey allowed the option of self-serve.” It also directs people to a website for the campaign.

Gautam Kothari, who grew up in New Jersey, became accustomed to having someone else pump his gas. When he attended school in New York, he got used to pumping his own gas quickly.

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He is in favor of having a self-serve option, but is concerned about what happens to the gas attendants.

“If the people that do this type of work are okay with it … that they can get some other type of job, then I’m all for it,” he said.

Wilson said having a self-serve option would be a help, but at the same time he said it would be a nuisance because people from the state are not used to pumping their own gas.

“They always want to ask for help,” he said. “The only people that know how to pump their own gas came to Jersey” adding that native Jerseyans don’t know how to do it.

The demonstration is being led by the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience Store and Automotive Association (NJGCA) in support of Assembly Bill 3105, a bi-partisan bill that would remove a decades-long ban on self-serve fuel.

“Although we have a lot of legislators who agree with us and support us, some of the leadership in the legislature has been saying that they don’t believe we’ll pass on the savings to the motorists,” said Sal Risalvato, NJGCA’s executive director, adding they want to prove the point that “gasoline retailers will, in fact, pass the savings along to the motorists.”

He adds that the pandemic has exasperated the long-standing problem of finding attendants to work gas pumps.

“It’s just not a desirable job,” Risalvato said. “We’ve had this labor problem for more than 10 years … people are just noticing and listening to us right now, because all they hear on the news is that there’s a labor shortage everywhere.”

He adds that stations that used to be open 24 hours are closing as early as 9 p.m. because they don’t have enough employees.

Risalvato noted that orange cones at gas pumps represent employees that don’t exist. He makes the case that if the law is passed, motorists would be able to fill up themselves before an attendant even noticed them.

“All we are asking is to change the law so that rather than have you be inconvenienced and wait at one of the pumps where there are other cars waiting to be filled, or you’re waiting at the pump for an attendant to finish with other customers,” Risalvato said.

In addition to allowing “the act of pumping one’s own gas,” the bill would require gas stations with more than four pumps to continue offering full-service gas between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. It would also require attendants to give assistance to disabled motorists who want self-service gas at no additional cost to someone displaying a placard with the wheelchair symbol.

The legislation appears to be in line with a recent Monmouth University Poll that found a majority supports self-serve gas only if a full-service option is available.

Several people who chose to fill-up at Lukoil in West Windsor also support having an option for self-serve gas.

Bria Mickey, who travels a lot for work, said she would be totally fine with a self-serve option, adding that it would be more convenient.

“I came here and I probably waited for, like a minute or two, and that’s not too bad,” she said, “but why wait if I can just pump my own gas?”

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