Pump your own gas: Will latest bill on age-old debate make it to governor’s desk?

Legislative leaders are pushing hybrid model, with self-serve and full-serve options

We can debate whether the ability to pump your own gas is wanted by New Jerseyans, and that appears to be a 50-50 fight. As usual.

And, as always, it’s really no different than the occasional argument on whether there is a Central Jersey — and, if there is, should you go to a QuickChek or Wawa when you’re there?

The question, however, isn’t whether we should have the ability to pump our own gas — and whether that is more necessary than ever, now that a shortage of workers has forced some stations to close early. It’s about whether the latest effort to allow residents to pump their own gas has any chance of passing the Legislature and getting signed by the governor.

The answer: Not likely, but …

Let’s start at the top. The Governor’s Office offered its standard answer of not commenting on potential legislation (even though Gov. Phil Murphy often does), but the governor always has seemed dead set against the idea.

During the early days of the pandemic — when no one really understood the impact of COVID or how it was spread — Murphy refused to even entertain the idea of allowing residents to pump their own gas. Even with station owners begging him to do so, saying they were concerned about the health of their employees. The ones that were even willing to come.

But that hasn’t stopped the latest effort to make New Jersey follow the lead of the 49 other states, all of which allow self-service in at least some fashion.

Bill A3105, which was introduced Monday in the Assembly by Assemblypeople Carol Murphy (D-Cinnaminson), Ned Thomson (R-Wall Twp.) and Annette Chaparro (D-Hoboken), would allow for a hybrid fueling model in New Jersey.

The “Motorist Fueling Choice and Convenience Act” would allow gas stations the option of offering self-serve, while still requiring stations with more than four dispensers to continue to offer full-service gas pumps, giving consumers the option to pump their own gas if they wish.

“Simply put, this bill will provide choice, convenience and cost savings to New Jersey drivers,” Murphy said. “By providing a hybrid model, we can give consumers the option to do what they prefer when it comes to filling their gas tanks, while also giving them the opportunity to save money.”

Will it get through committee and come to a vote in the Assembly? Well …

“The speaker is familiar with the bill that’s just been introduced and aware of the discussion surrounding this issue, and will be taking a look,” Cecilia Williams, spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), said.

Will a similar bill get through the Senate? Well …

Republican leader Steve Oroho (R-Sparta) sure hopes so. Oroho said he is preparing to present a bill with two powerhouses from the other side of the aisle, Sens. Vin Gopal (D-Ocean Twp.) and Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge).

“The three of us are supportive, and there are a number of others,” Oroho told ROI-NJ. “It’s bipartisan.”

Oroho knows the historical challenges, but he also knows we’re in a unique place in history.

“The governor said on the campaign trail that he did not support it, but with all the labor shortages and lots of red cones blocking pumps — why not?” he said.

Sal Risalvato, the executive director of Fuel Your Way NJ, has a good reason why.

He said motorists already are paying a premium for full-serve gas, whether they want it or not. Gasoline retailing is the most competitive marketplace there is, and retailers believe that, by moving to a hybrid model, the price of gas in New Jersey will be reduced by at least 15 cents per gallon, Risalvato said.

Besides, isn’t it time for New Jersey to stop being an outlier?

“It’s time to bring New Jersey up to speed with the rest of the country with this common-sense approach,” he said. “Over 300 million people already have the freedom to pump their gas. Why shouldn’t the people of New Jersey be included?”

For starters, many don’t want to be.

A non-scientific Twitter poll by News 12 had only 51% of more than 1,000 respondents saying they would pump their own gas if they could. A non-scientific conversation on New Jersey 101.5 radio on Tuesday had far more people against the idea than for it.

Chaparro isn’t having it. This is all about the economy, she said.

“It is shameful that so many gas stations have had to close even during daytime hours, because they do not have enough staff to keep their stations open,” she said. “It’s time to save our small business community and get rid of the stigma.”

Chaparro said she’ll be first in line, crushing another stereotype in the process.

“Jersey girls can do anything — including pump their own gas,” she said. “Jersey girls like to save money just like everyone else.”