Dozens of New Jersey gas stations dropped their prices Friday to protest the state ban on self-service, as skyrocketing fuel prices hit record highs ahead of the start of summer.
The reduced prices are aimed at showing motorists how much they could save at the pumps if the Garden State were to allow people the option of pumping their own gas, organizers said.
The ban — the only one of its kind in the nation — is viewed as “silly” or “embarrassing” by critics, said Sal Risalvato of the New Jersey Gasoline-Convenience Store-Automotive Association.
“When my members encounter customers from out of state, they’re so used to pumping their gas, they jump out of their car to start pumping their gas and we have to stop them,” Risalvato told The Post. “And they think it’s ridiculous.”
But the issue continues to hit political gridlock in a state where many traditionalists want to protect the perceived sanctity of full-serve.
A bill called the Motorist Fueling Choice and Convenience Act is the latest effort to repeal the ban, but is considered a longshot to become law. Full-serve-only has become “a source of Jersey pride,” but has meant the loss of potential savings for motorists, he said.
Self-serve has been illegal in Jersey since 1949, when the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act went into effect with the goal of reducing fire hazards, limiting liability insurance for stations and minimizing customers’ exposure to toxic gas fumes “particularly in the case of pregnant women.”
The law also said a self-serve option would mean higher full-service prices that would lead to “discrimination against low income individuals” who’d be subjected to the hazards of pumping their own fuel.
Supporters of the longstanding ban argue that lifting it wouldn’t have a tangible effect on gas prices and could mean a loss of service station jobs. Risalvato disagrees, noting many stations have long placed orange cones in front of working gas pumps even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Those cones that are blocking off gas pumps — those are employees that don’t exist,” he said. “What we want to do is remove the orange cone and allow you to pump your gas.”
At an Exxon Station near the entrance of the Holland Tunnel in Jersey City on Friday, about half of the station’s 22 pumps were blocked off with cones and signs that read, “This pump would be open if NJ allowed self serve.”
The station was offering 15-cent discounts but was still full-serve, with employees handing out slips to customers that said, “Motorists would have $100 — $400 annually if New Jersey allowed the option of self-serve.”
“I’d say 75 percent are open to it,” station manager Richard Fazaldin told The Post. “About 25 percent like things the way they are. They’re like, ‘I don’t want to pump it myself after all these years.’ I explain, ‘No, no, no, ma’am. We’re always going to have full serve. We’re going to have full serve and self serve.”
New York City cab driver Phil Fleurant, 54, who was filling up his 17-gallon car, said repealing the ban would be a good idea because of savings on price and a potential tip for the worker.
“It’s nothing to pump the gas. Thank God, I’m not handicapped,” Fleurant said. “I can do it. I work five, six days a week. Those savings add up.”
Pediatric dentist Yasmi Crystal said she preferred full-serve.
“It’s almost embarrassing for me, but I’m a prima donna, because I would rather pay the money than have my hands stink of gasoline,” Crustal said. “But I’m very, very sensitive to people for whom the 15 cents mean a lot.”
Jersey City resident Dante Jones, 30, said he’d be happy to do the job himself if it meant savings.
“Right now, with the prices being high, any money being saved is great,” Jones said.
The effort comes as the average gas prices in the state hit a record high on Friday of $4.502 per gallon of regular unleaded — a full 50 cents higher than a month earlier and well above the $3.057 average a year ago, according to AAA. The national average on Friday was $4.432, AAA stated.
A Monmouth University poll in April found that two out of three New Jerseyans would pump their own gas if given the option, with 54% in favor of self-serve so long as full-service remains an option. Only 21% polled believed that a change in the law would actually drive prices down, according to the survey.