Self-serve gas legal in rural Oregon

Pump your own gas? Fuel stations can allow that under conditions: Only in Oregon counties with population under 40,000; and only at nighttime, between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

A new law strikes down Oregon’s historic ban on customers pumping their own gas — with conditions.

The “self-serve” gas legislation took effect Jan. 1. Now, gas stations in rural Oregon counties with populations tagged at 40,000 or lower —including Hood River County —are allowed to keep their pumps open at night so customers can fuel up without an employee’s help.

Specifically, the law allows coin-operated or self-service dispensing machines to function between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. in “low population counties,” even if an operator isn’t in the “immediate vicinity” of the tank or container being filled.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario) and co-sponsored by Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day) strives to ease the journey through isolated stretches of Oregon, particularly the southeastern region, where drivers can become stranded if no gas stations are open at night.

According to a record of the House’s first reading, HB 3011 targeted the following: a lack of access to fuel stations in rural Oregon, the impact of gas stations with limited hours of operation and the danger of travelers running out of fuel.

Bi-partisan support ushered the bill through both chambers of the Oregon Legislature in the 2015 session, with all local representatives and senators voting for the rural, nighttime self-service gas program.

The Senate vote passed 25 to 5 — all opposed were Democrat senators representing the Portland metro area, and the final House vote cleared the chamber at 57 to zero (with three representatives not voting). Gov. Kate Brown signed the bill into law in June.

The gas law applies to 18 counties so far, that are under the 40,000-person cut-off. It also leaves liberal room for growth if a county “ceases to be a low-population county on or after the effective date” of the law.

Hood River County — with a population of 24,245 according to a preliminary count in 2015 by Portland State University — easily qualifies for the program, as do neighboring Gorge counties Wasco, Sherman, Gilliam and Wheeler.

However, the transition won’t be immediate for Hood River or its surrounding communities. Some operators intend to stick with the employee-only tradition, while others are considering making a change.

Jamil Hanby, assistant manager at Heights Fuel Stop, said Monday morning the business is aware of the law but hasn’t implemented an automatic system yet. The Fuel Stop is waiting for a software technician to update their operating system, at which point the “Pay Inside” button on the pump could be disabled, and customers could fuel up on their own.

Heights Fuel Stop is a sister station to locations in Pine Grove and The Dalles, all owned by Hattenhauer Distributing Co.

Hanby anticipates that if the Fuel Stop completes the transition to self-serve, there will still be an employee working from inside the building — at least during the early stages of phase in.

“We’re so close to Washington there’s a lot who do know how (to pump gas), but there’s a lot of people in Oregon that have never pumped their own gas before,” Hanby said.

Rusty Carter, Marina Shell manager, said the station also hasn’t implemented the nighttime gas program, but they’ll be taking on research to consider gradually changing.

Oregon is one of two states that have consistently banned self-service gas, along with New Jersey.

Back in 1951, Oregon legislators passed the gas ban with the intent of defending the public from handling “Class 1 flammable fuels,” and also to protect the elderly and disabled from getting out of their car to pump gas “because Oregon’s weather is uniquely adverse, causing wet pavement and reduced visibility.”

Oregon does include some exceptions: motorcyclists can handle the gas nozzle while an attendant is present, and “cardlock” pumps allow commercial drivers and emergency crews to fuel up on their own at certain stations. However, the new gas law would still mark the first time in 64 years that most drivers could fuel up unaided within Oregon’s borders.

During the bill’s early stage, public reactions were mixed. Some praised the transition to adopt self-service gas, while others predicted the automation would hurt local jobs.

An unofficial reader poll posted by Hood River News in May has since yielded these results from a pool of 216 voters:

The question: A bill allowing for self-service gasoline in rural counties recently passed the Oregon house. Would you prefer to be able to pump your own gasoline?

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