Photo by Neita Cecil
An old sticker on a gas pump at the Westside 76 station lets customers know that self-serve is not an option. At that gas station, and others in town, fuel attendants are still pumping gas for customers, even though a new state law took effect Jan. 1 that made self serve legal in smaller Oregon counties like Wasco.
The typical reaction in The Dalles in the wake of news that gas stations in smaller Oregon counties can now allow people to pump their own gas has been: Do we have to?
The answer at local gas stations — at least so far — is no.
Employees at the Fred Meyer fueling station were not allowed to talk to the media this week, but some four workers were seen doing what they’ve always done, busily tending to customers pulling up for gas.
At the Safeway fueling station, if people want to pump their own gas, they can, an employee said.
Carlos Courtier, a fuel attendant at the Astro at 2914 W. Sixth, said, “They ask if they have to pump their own.” Nope. Self-serve isn’t an option there, and he doesn’t think it will be.
Jeanette Milberger, another fuel attendant at Astro, said, “We still get to help you out. That’s how I’m seeing it.”
According to the Oregonian/Oregon Live, some 10,000 people work at gas stations in the state.
The law that took effect Jan. 1 said gas stations in counties with less than 40,000 residents could pump their own gas at any time of day. Wasco County is one of those counties.
The others are: Malheur, Union, Wasco, Hood River, Jefferson, Crook, Baker, Morrow, Lake, Grant, Harney, Wallowa, Gilliam, Sherman, and Wheeler counties. Drivers in Tillamook, Curry and Clatsop counties are allowed to self-serve between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The internet, not to mention national and even international media, has had a field day poking fun at the notion that Oregonians — one of only two states in the union where self-serve has been illegal (the other is New Jersey) — are up in arms about the idea they have to pump their own gas.
Courtier said, “I’ve heard all kinds of stories about why people shouldn’t pump gas.”
They include the risk of getting mugged, the risk that their car could be stolen — “with the kids in it” he heard from one person.
Oregon passed a law in 1951 banning self-serve for safety, jobs and convenience reasons.
At the Astro Expressmart a few blocks east on West Sixth Street, Assistant Manager Rachelle Merkling said there were no plans to switch to self-serve.
That suits fuel attendant Dalene Smith just fine. “I just don’t think it was a smart idea,” she said.
While there’s plenty of reasons why people shouldn’t pump their own gas, there’s also lots of good reasons for leaving it to the professionals, she said.
She said for all the Facebook memes making fun of Oregon, she said with gas station attendants, there are fewer drive-offs, and fewer accidents with spilled gas.
“Do they know how to shut it off if a fire starts? No.”
“It’s time consuming when you get out and pre-pay,” Smith said. Quicker is to have an attendant do the work for you — especially when its four degrees outside, Merkling added.
That, and there are a lot of jobs relying on the service.
Merkling talked about the busy Fred Meyer station, which staffs at least four to five people per shift. “That’s a minimum of eight people, every day, without a job.”
Smith does get the occasional customer upset that they can’t pump their own gas.
But mostly when she talks to customers, “they say ‘Thank you that you are still no self-serve.’”