Once upon a time, self-serve gas stations were a novelty, and it wasn’t unreasonable to think that allowing untrained consumers to pump their own gasoline might pose a safety threat. But drivers got used to operating the pumps, fuel-dispensing technology improved, gas-station owners welcomed the savings — and self-serve stations grew enormously popular. In only two states, New Jersey and Oregon, are motorists still prohibited by law from pumping gasoline, an eccentric prohibition that has irritated many visitors driving through those states.
In Massachusetts, self-service gas stations have long been the norm — except in a handful of communities where it is still illegal for motorists to pump their own gas. Among those communities is Arlington, which banned self-service in 1975. One Arlington Town Meeting member, Carl Wagner, thinks 38 years of this no-choice policy are enough, and he is urging town officials to overturn it.
It’s hard to see any reasonable objection to such a common-sense fix, nor any reason why Milford, Upton, and Weymouth (the other full-serve-only holdouts) shouldn’t follow suit. No one is talking about mandating self-serve pumping. Gas station owners should simply have the freedom to offer self-serve, full-serve, or both, and to base that decision on what their customers want. Some motorists like having someone else “fill ’er up,” while they stay put. Others would rather jump out of the car, swipe their card, and do it themselves. There’s no reason the law needs to take sides.