Think Out Loud

Could Oregonians soon pump their own gas statewide?

By Elizabeth Castillo (OPB)
Feb. 15, 2022 5:48 p.m. Updated: Feb. 22, 2022 10:31 p.m.

Broadcast: Tuesday, Feb. 15

A gas pump nozzle rests in a vehicle, filling the tank with gas.

A gas pump nozzle rests in a vehicle, filling the tank with gas.

Michael Clapp / OPB


Rural Oregonians can already pump their own gas. A bipartisan bill working its way through the legislature would give residents across the state that option. We hear details about the bill from Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, and gas station owner Haseeb Shojai.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller:  There are only a handful of laws that set Oregon apart from the rest of the country, ‘The Kicker’ is one of them. Until recently you could have put convictions by non-unanimous juries in that category and not being able to pump your own gas statewide is definitely on the list. Only one other state, New Jersey, has a similar prohibition. In recent years, lawmakers have been loosening restrictions in rural areas.

Now there is a bipartisan bill to allow self-service statewide. The proposal would still require stations to offer a full service option. What do you think about this idea? You can give us a call to join the conversation right now. The number is 1-888-665-5865. I’m joined now by Shelly Boshart Davis, a Republican state representative from Albany, Millersburg and Tangent and one of the chief sponsors of this bill. Thanks for joining us. Why did you introduce this bill?

Shelly Boshart Davis: I think that it’s needed and we’re right in the middle of a labor shortage. And so for such a big issue, like you mentioned in the beginning, this is kind of a simple bill. It really just allows gas stations to offer consumers a choice of both self-service and attended fueling and it will ensure the attended service for customers who enjoy it today and self-service for those who make that choice.

Miller: Can you explain how the rules would work?

Boshart Davis:  Basically there would be placards and up to 50% of the pumps at the gas stations would be allowed to be self-serve. And so if you pulled up to it, you’d see signs that show self-serve and signs that show attendants that could service you. And so it’s really that simple and when you pull into a fueling station, you have the choice to do one or the other.

Miller:  Would full service have to be an option around the clock or what would happen in the evening. And I asked this because in rural areas, where there was not an attendant say at midnight, that was Oregon’s first foray into self-serve. How would that work?

Boshart Davis:  It doesn’t affect that. And yes, that did happen. I believe in 2015 there was the bill that allowed Oregonians in rural and coastal counties the ability to pump their own gas and then in 2017 that expanded into rural counties that allows 24/7 self refueling. But here it wouldn’t change at night times. It still would be the same 24 hours a day. It just would allow up to 50% of those pumps when you’re open to be self served.

Miller: Let’s take a call right now. Alan has called in. Give us your thoughts on this Alan?

Phone-in caller Alan:  Yes, my responses to the representative, this concerns the disabled who own and drive their own automobiles. Now I knew a gentleman [who] was not able to get out of his car to put fuel in his automobile. I suggest that when you talk with your other fellow representatives down in Salem, that you look into the issue of an individual who is unable to get out of the car and put fuel in.  Maybe what would be required by Oregon [would be from] DMV - some kind of sticker placed on the front windshield that could be noticed by the owners of the gas station (and look into something like that.) Thank you.

Miller:  Well, Alan, stay on. So maybe you hadn’t heard, but full service would still be required at all gas stations. Are you saying that’s not enough for people who have disabilities?

Alan:  That’s correct. Because if you have inclimate weather, you’re not going to be just walking up and rolling down the window. With a sticker somewhere placed on the front windshield, it would instantly notify the full service station attendant [that] here’s an individual that I need to talk to concerning fueling his automobile or truck.

Miller:  But wouldn’t pulling up in the full service place by itself, communicate that very basic fact?

Alan:  Well, not all places have that ability, especially way out in the countryside when you just have maybe a couple of pumps at your gas station. We’re not all living in metropolitan areas now.

Miller:   Thanks very much for that call. Representative Boshart Davis, I’m not sure I totally understood the caller’s point, but I want to give you a chance to respond to it?

Boshart Davis:  Well, I do want to and one of the things that he said was about any person that might have a disability. And while your response was correct, that the full service will still exist and so a person that couldn’t get out of their vehicle or didn’t want to get out of the vehicle would choose that lane. And again, it goes back to the bill that strikes the balance between the needs of consumers and businesses. And if the need of a consumer is to have assistance with pumping the fuel, then that will still exist. And I think that it provides a solution that ensures access for people with disabilities and for those who simply prefer service from an attendant and that will continue.

Miller:  Again, our phone number is 1-888-665-5865. Haseeb Shojai is with us. He is the owner of four gas stations in central Oregon in three different Oregon counties. Haseeb, why are you in favor of this bill?

Haseeb Shojai:  Because this bill makes sense. It makes our job as employers and as operators of gas stations easier, especially with the labor shortage and with the global pandemic that has affected every aspect of our lives. I think self-service has been a thing in Oregon for a long time and we are popular for that. But I think it’s time for people to have the option to have the choice in case they want to pump their own gas. I don’t think that is much different than grocery stores where you can go to self-checkout or you can wait for a cashier. You have the option. You can pick either/or, and that seems to have worked.

And I don’t think it’s much different than a bank that has an ATM in the front. People can deposit money and withdraw money from their accounts using a machine instead of having to talk to a cashier. I think it’s time for change. I think it’s due right now because of the labor shortage. In counties where we have the option for self-service and full service, we have less problems.

And in counties like Deschutes County, for example, we have a huge, huge shortage of gas attendants to where people’s lives are disrupted because it takes them about 45 minutes to get about 10 gallons of gas pumped into their vehicles while they’re going to work.

Miller:  Where have you heard that it’s 45 minutes on average to get 10 gallons of gas?

Shojai:  Well, I see that every day in Bend, Oregon. We have customers who come in and our station is their third or fourth stop because the other two stations did not have attendants. So they had to shut down and then the one that has the attendant is quite busy because all the customers from the closed stations pile up on the same station that has the attendant. And everybody has to wait in line until it’s their turn to get gas.

Miller:  What are the challenges you’re facing specifically in terms of staffing at gas stations? Obviously we’ve been hearing about staffing shortages that are largely pandemic related for a year now. But I’m curious what they are specifically at a gas station?

Shojai:  Gas station jobs are, although it sounds easy, it looks easy, but it’s really, really difficult. The gas attendants have to be outside for extended periods of time and the weather in Oregon is not always ideal for people to be outside for long periods. Sometimes we have heat waves. Sometimes we have really, really cold weather. Sometimes it’s way too smoky and unhealthy for people to stay outside. But it’s their job requirement to be outside to attend to people who need fuel.

That makes it a lot harder for people to want to apply for this job or want to do this job, especially when they have 1000 other options that they can do indoors.

Miller:  I want to actually play you a voicemail we got that is specifically about this. This is because a lot of people have been focused on the question of labor. So let’s have a listen.

Recorded Voicemail:  My concern about this argument that we should keep these jobs for people is that they aren’t very good jobs. They’re minimum wage. And I’m most concerned about the exposure that the workers have breathing fumes all day. So I would really prefer that we pump our own gas.

Miller:  What do you think about that? On the one hand, we’ve heard from people saying this is important because we want people to keep these jobs. She’s saying people shouldn’t be doing these jobs to the extent that they are right now.


Shojai:  I think it’s a matter of personal opinion. She’s not wrong. People should have the choice and we should not force people into a labor market to where they don’t want to, but that’s their only option. If we can do this without having employees in heat for eight hours, I think we should take that option.

Again, it’s a personal preference. We should be careful with how we deal with our elderly, with our seniors and with people with disabilit[ies]. I think it’s really, really, really important that we keep our roots as Oregonians and present our community with the proper service to where everybody’s happy.

Miller:  John has called in from Portland. John, what are you thinking?

Phone-in caller John:  Hey, I’m curious if we have any data around extended wait times for having attendants be kind of a requirement in the process [and] if it’s longer in Oregon than in other states. And if we do have any data around that, have we tried to quantify economic impact of people just waiting in their cars.

Miller:  Before we send this to our lawmaker and back to our gas station owner I’m curious about what your experience has been?

John:  I’m not originally from the state that has this requirement. But, and it seems fairly clear that in heavily trafficked stations, you’ve got, often, the bottleneck, which is the attendant running to change the pumps.

Miller:  Shelly Boshart Davis, we heard from Haseeb Shojai that, in Bend, he has experienced 45-minute waits and people going to his gas station because others have closed. What have you heard about delays statewide?

Boshart Davis:  Yeah. In response to the caller as far as data or comparison to other states. One thing I think that we recognize and [which] also goes back to why the timing is right right now for this bill is because the labor shortage that we’re experiencing is a newer issue and it’s not something that’s been going on for years and years where we’ve been able to study it or have data. And it most likely is pandemic related. And we’re dealing with this issue that we don’t know whether that’s going to change or not change any time soon.

But we’re dealing with that right now and so it’s really important we keep these gas stations open so that these jobs exist. And I think that it’s also good to recognize the importance of gas stations so we can keep people moving. I think it is going to have a positive impact because if anything, the lines may be shorter with some people choosing self-serve. So gas stations can stay open and do what they do best, which is serving customers and keeping them moving from point A to point B.

Miller:  John thanks very much for that call. Pete has called in from Newport. Pete, go ahead.

Phone-in caller Pete:  Hi, so I grew up in Michigan and then lived in Chicago where they have full service or self-service and tipping is expected there. And so my concern is if there isn’t something in the bill that says that you can’t tip, that this will become kind of like a class warfare thing where if the people have money, they get full service. But the people that don’t have the money to tip are going to have to do their own gas in inclement weather.

Miller:  Shelly Boshart Davis, I didn’t see anything specifically about tipping in the bill. I did see that station owners cannot charge a different amount of money for self-service versus full service. But how do you think about this question of tipping?

Boshart Davis: I will say to listeners that both the self and attendant service gas will be offered at the same price. That is in the bill. And I will suggest just by logistics when you pull in, whether you have more money or don’t have more money, there’s a line and the person in front of the line will be the first person to receive the attendant served fuel. So I haven’t heard that in all the responses I’ve gotten [which], by the way, has been mostly positive for this bill. I haven’t heard that question or concern about any sort of tipping.

Miller:  We got this from Sarah who emailed us;

“As a woman. I can’t tell you how many weird encounters I’ve had with men who work the pumps. Also in the midst of the pandemic, many did not wear a mask just like when I pay in a restaurant. I hate hate hate giving my credit card to a stranger and having them take it out of my sight. Another thing I dislike is when they mishear my zip code, enter the wrong code then the pump denies my card. Plus if you arrive when everyone else needs a fill and there’s only one gas attendant working, guarantee that’s a good 10 minute wait until you can leave. I suspect all these other Oregonians weighing in saying that not being allowed to pump your own gas is quaint, sets Oregon apart, comes in handy during the rain, and it’s tradition, are all secretly afraid or unable to work a gas pump.

Miller:  Catherine has called in from Bend. Catherine, go ahead.

Phone-in caller Catherine:  Hi. Thanks for taking my call. As someone who’s a transplant to Oregon, I love this state, I’ve never felt safer at stations. As a female, I felt so unsafe having to get gas in remote areas previously. And then being able to drive around Oregon, I have the opposite problem. I find gas station attendants friendly. They make the experience safer. If I’ve had car trouble, which I’ve had, or run out of gas, they’ve been helpful. So I feel that the gas station experience is inherently safer with attendants than it was [with] my previous experience beforehand.

Miller:  Catherine, thanks very much for that call.  Stu has called in from Paisley. Stu, go ahead.

Phone-in caller Stu:  Yeah. Hi. My question was, I think the voters have been asked this question several times already and they’ve already said that we don’t want to pump our own gas. So I think that those voters should doubt her or at least send it to the voters in a referendum.

Miller:  What about the fact that you still can pump your own gas. This isn’t saying you can’t - just simply saying if people want to pump their own gas, they can?

Stu:  Right? So I live in the rural area now and moved from Eugene to Paisley and pulled into a gas station in Lakeview and he [attendant] said after 6:00, you need to pump your own gas if you can. And they just stand there and watch you.

And the gas prices didn’t come down with me pumping up my own gas. So that didn’t change. And I’m all for making my own Subway sandwich at Subway, but they won’t let me do that. But I don’t know.

Miller:  Got it. Shelly Boshart Davis, do you think (obviously you don’t you’re a sponsor of this bill). But to take Stu’s question, why do you not think this is an issue that Oregon voters directly should have a say on?

Boshart Davis:  To answer that, I don’t believe that this has ever been on the ballot. So hopefully fact checkers are checking that right now. But I don’t believe that it’s actually been on the ballot.

Miller:  Yes, I wasn’t aware of it being on the ballot either. But to his point, why shouldn’t it be?

Boshart Davis:  Well, I can release a poll done in October 2021. [It] found really strong support for a modified proposal, like you mentioned. This is the choice. And the poll found that 68.8% of registered Oregon voters favored having a choice of both self and attendant service fueling options. So I think that that number really shows that Oregonians out there and there’s a lot of them that want to pump their own and there’s a lot of them that like the choice of being able to have both of those options. And to the two previous callers, both on each side of the issue, um, [it] really reaffirms that and shows that having the choice to do both is really the way to go.

Miller:  We’re going to hear one more bit of a voicemail now. This is Jeff Cook who called in from Portland.

Phone-in caller Jeff Cook:  The answer is just to get rid of the gas tank altogether. Move to electric vehicles. Move away from the way we’ve always done things.

Miller:  Haseeb Shojai, you have four gas stations in central Oregon. Would you consider creating some kind of charging station empire instead?

Shojai:  Absolutely. Why not? That’s the way forward. I’m sure it will happen sometime in the future but we are already headed that direction. But right now we still have an existing condition. We still have an existing problem that we have to take care of. I’m pretty sure in the future that’s how we will drive and that’s how we will charge. Will we have an attendant required to charge your car? I don’t know. Uh, but that is something for the future. And I think we’re headed that way.

Haseeb Shojai and Shelly Boshart Davis, thanks very much.

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