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How much can NJ drivers save by pumping their own gasoline? Coalition gave them a look Friday.

With the flick of a switch, gas prices on an electronic sign at an Exxon station in Jersey City magically dropped 15 cents per gallon after a week of runaway gas prices.

It wasn’t a sudden change in the commodity market or an influx of crude oil that sent the price crashing down like it was hot. It was a demonstration by dozens of gas stations on Friday of how much consumers could save if the state ended its ban on self-serve gasoline and allowed a hybrid system that offered full service and a self-service.

The Fuel Your Way NJ coalition protest has brought some relief to drivers weary of rising prices and, organizers hope to rally public support for stall legislation to allow drivers to pump their own gas if they want, as part of a proposed hybrid system. Gas stations in 15 New Jersey counties participated in lowering prices.

New Jersey is the latest state in the country to ban drivers from pumping their own fuel.

“We want to demonstrate and dispel the skepticism of legislative leaders who don’t believe there will be savings,” said Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline-Convenience-Automotive Association, the trade group of the industry, at a press conference at an Exxon in Jersey City, near the Holland Tunnel.

The average gallon price in New Jersey was $4.49 a gallon, 4 cents higher than the national regular fuel price, GasBuddy.com reported Friday morning. The Exxon at Jersey Avenue and 12th Street in Jersey City dropped its price from $4.59 a gallon to a normal price of $4.44 as part of the demonstration.

At a news conference, gas station owners said the proposal was no different from using self-checkout or the checkout counter at a grocery store, and would help ease a crisis in the work.

Risalvato was flanked by several gas station owners who spoke about the problem of hiring attendants to pump gas for the past 10 years, a problem they say has been made worse by the coronavirus. All said it wouldn’t cost people jobs, as any attendants displaced would be moved to work inside the convenience stores that many gas stations also have.

“For the past few years, business has been difficult because of the labor shortage. We told lawmakers and you don’t believe us,” said Kashmir S. Gill, whose Matawan-based family business operates 85 gas stations and a trucking company. “Of my 85 gas stations, 50% close at night because we don’t have employees.”

Sal Risalvato, executive director of New Jersey Gasoline, C-Store and Automotive Association, explains Friday how a hybrid system that allows the driver to pump their own gas or hire an attendant will save money and help with a labor shortage. This Jersey City Exxon was among dozens of stations that lowered prices to show potential savings at the pump.

The students, who previously worked at gas stations, turned to more lucrative jobs, such as driving for Uber and delivering food for Doordash.

Traffic cones blocking some pumps had signs telling customers that the pump is closed due to lack of employees to operate it. The Exxon where the press conference was held has 22 refueling stations; six were closed and two employees were pumping gas where five to six should have been working for adequate coverage.

Risalvato had a word for the skeptics who claim a discount for pumping your own gas will go away: competition, other gas stations.

“Competition will ensure that prices come down at self-service pumps. It doesn’t need to be enshrined in legislation,” he said. “If another station offers a lower price, the competition has no choice.”

A driver who pulled over for gas said he liked the idea of ​​a full-service or self-service hybrid system based on his experience in other states. Would he pump his own gas for a price drop of 15 cents a gallon?

“I doubt it. I travel, and in other states I do, that’s okay. But sometimes you have to wait 15 to 20 minutes to pay,” Woodbridge’s Wayne Ball said. New Jersey, you park at a gas station, they pump it out, and you’re good to go. It’s more of a convenience.”

A bill introduced in February was blocked by the state legislature after State Senate Speaker Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, said in March that he does not currently support the bill. on self-serve, making it unlikely that he’ll release it for a vote and effectively kill this.

The bill, A3105, would offer a hybrid system allowing petrol stations to offer full service, self-service or a combination. Those with more than four pumps would be required to have a full service option between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. However, there would be no requirement to keep attendants at smaller stations or during other hours of operation.

Risalvato said he was willing to meet with Scutari and met with Governor Phil Murphy’s staff about the hybrid plan and the legislation. Friday’s protest was designed to provide evidence to the legislature of what would happen if a hybrid system were allowed, that gas prices at self-serve pumps would drop, he said.

The New Jersey Gasoline-Convenience-Automotive Association estimates stations could lower prices by 15 cents a gallon if allowed to offer self-serve. However, the legislation does not specify how much of this cost saving would be passed on to customers if self-service were permitted.

The bill can’t legally specify a discount, but competition between gas stations will, Risalvato said.

“The bill is not intended to eliminate full service. He’s trying to give petrol stations the ability to allow people to pump their own petrol, if they need it,” said Meer Fazalbin, who said he operated 54 petrol stations, including one on the road. 17 North which has lost customers to New York.

“It’s a matter of choice and collusion,” he said. “Forty-nine other states do. It’s time for New Jersey to enter the 21st century.

Drivers also received a replica $100 bill, which will be distributed over the next few weeks with a message that they could save $100 to $400 a year if the state allowed self-service. He also encouraged drivers to reach out to their lawmakers to support passing the legislation.

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Larry Higgs can be reached at lhiggs@njadvancemedia.com.

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