In New Jersey, it’s illegal to pump your own gas – something Illinoisans have been doing since the early ‘70s.
“I’ve done it for many, many years by myself with no issues,” said Chicago resident Robert Carson.
A bill proposed in early February by Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Chicago, would have Illinois go New Jersey’s route; House Bill 4571 “provides that no gas may be pumped at a gas station in this State unless it is pumped by a gas station attendant employed at the gas station.”
While feedback has run the gamut, much of the early reaction is similar to Carson’s: “I think it’s stupid,” he said.
Lilly on Tuesday said she doesn’t, and never did, intend for the measure to become law as it is. She said it was a starting point.
“People bring legislators ideas and we start with that vehicle to get the conversation going, to get everything moving. It was not a bill to mandate anything,” she said. “We were, always, had the intention to come in and to reshape it with the input of the people, of the industry.”
The goal, she said, is safety and convenience at the pump.
The idea for the legislation came from a mother of three who went to Lilly because she was concerned about reports of carjackings. She didn’t like having to leave the children in the car when she went inside to pay.
Other safety concerns, Lilly said, include the potential for fire, or someone driving away with the gas hose still in their vehicle.
No state agency could immediately provide WTTW News with figures on such incidents, or the frequency with which they occur, but Josh Sharp, director of the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association-Illinois Association of Convenience Stores, said his organization is not aware of any catastrophic incidents. Pumps today are outfitted with valves which automatically seal off if there’s too much tension, thus preventing gas from spewing out of the machine.
Some gas stations have call buttons or are equipped with products like FuelCall, a transmitter and chime system that those who need assistance can use to get help from a convenience store employee, but they aren’t required by law.
“Not every gas station has that, so someone that’s disabled would have to know where that gas station is and that’s the only gas station they can go to, to get that kind of service,” Lilly said.
Lilly said she wants to “give consumers the option to be serviced by a gas station attendant” in addition to the option of being able to serve themselves.
Some gas stations provide full service, though it appears to be rare.
“Owners would do it if people wanted it,” said Josh Sharp, director of the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association-Illinois Association of Convenience Stores. “Consumers are focused on one thing. That’s price … they want the cheapest option they can get.”
Sharp said gas stations would need to increase prices if they had to pay for full-service attendants, especially considering most have spent money to make digital transactions at the pump as “seamless as possible” and “friendly” for customers.
Already, the average tax burden per gallon of fuel is 52 cents in Illinois, one of the highest burdens in the nation, he said. This summer Illinois doubled the state tax on motor fuel, up to 38 cents per gallon.
Chicagoan Jim Trainor said he wouldn’t mind bringing back full-service gas stations – a job he held when he was fresh out of high school.
“The weather? You don’t want your grandmother out there,” Trainor said. “I shoveled sidewalks for the widow in my old neighborhood, and just more convenient if somebody could pump the gas for ‘em.”
He, Lilly and even Carson – who isn’t keen on the idea – all like the fact that more full-service stations would create local jobs.
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