Full-service pump proposal fuels debate

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Like glass-bottled Coca-Cola, full-service pumps are a thing of the past in most areas of Michigan, but a state lawmaker wants to change that.
Rep. Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park, is the sponsor of a bill that would require gas stations to set aside one pump for full-service use with an employee to provide the service.
The proposal faces industry opposition because of costs and staffing needs.
The proposal would mandate that retailers offer full service at self-service prices for disabled drivers and anyone older than 65. Stations would be allowed to charge more for non-disabled drivers under 65.
“It would ensure that everyone has the opportunity to get fuel at their convenience,” Johnson said. “Right now we have stations that will meet these needs, but seniors and disabled drivers still have to go out of their way, a great deal in some cases, just to get fuel.”
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, drivers with a license plate or window placard identifying themselves as disabled are eligible for full service at self-serve prices, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
Service stations aren’t required to provide full service while operating with a single employee, but are encouraged to do so if feasible, under federal law.
Johnson said his legislation wouldn’t exempt stations with only one employee on duty.
Mark Griffin, president of the Michigan Petroleum Association and Michigan Association of Convenience Stores, said he wants to work with Johnson to understand the bill better.
“This legislation raises several operational and security concerns that could lead to higher fuel prices and, in extreme cases, put employees in unsafe circumstances or cause the closure of stations who could not meet this unfunded mandate,” Griffin said.
Griffin said the association has worked closely with groups to create a Web site (www.thepumpguide.com) that locates stations providing full service for the disabled and the elderly.
The guide lists more than 800 participating stations statewide. Each affiliated station lists the times that it provides full service fueling for disabled and elderly drivers.
New Jersey and Oregon are the only states that require full-service stations. New Jersey’s law was enacted in 1949 and Oregon’s in 1951.
Because of the added costs of operating full-serve stations, both states are in the bottom five nationwide in the percent of convenience stores selling gas, according to the National Association of Convenient Stores.
In Oregon, 62 percent of convenience stores sell fuel and only 44 do so in New Jersey. In Michigan, 88 percent of convenience stores sell gas, well above the national average of 79 percent.
Griffin said he’s concerned that the legislation could cause a decline in the number of gas stations.
“When fewer stores sell gas, there is less competition to drive down the price,” Griffin said. “Gas stations compete against their neighboring stations. When you have a corner or block with one station, they are more likely to increase their prices, which is bad for the consumer.”
Johnson’s bill is pending in the House Commerce Committee.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
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