A Handy Travel Guide for Oregon Gas Station Employment and House Bill 2482

by Christopher Rich

February 15, 2018

Fear not rural Oregonians, you don’t necessarily have to pump your own gas. Yes, the new law that took effect on January 1, 2018 does authorize gas stations in certain counties to allow self-service 24 hours a day. However, economic drivers and stipulations in the law suggest you’ll likely still have the option for full-service. So buckle up and come along on this tour of Oregon’s gas stations to get a feel for just how HB 2482 might affect the road ahead. Let’s start with an economist’s interpretation of the new law. Keep in mind, I’m an economist not a lawyer, therefore the following should not be construed as legal advice.

HB 2482

House Bill 2482 mentions two groups of Oregon counties; one group is a large geographic region designated ‘Eastern Oregon.’ The bill defines ‘Eastern Oregon’ as follows: “That portion of the State of Oregon lying east of a line beginning at the intersection of the northern boundary of this state and the western boundary of Hood River County, and from there proceeding southerly along the western boundaries of Hood River, Wasco, Jefferson, Deschutes, and Klamath counties to the southern boundary of this state.” This accounts for roughly two-thirds of the state. The other group is three counties identified as Clatsop, Tillamook, and Curry. Together, there are 18 Oregon counties affected by HB 2482. Below is my quick synopsis of the new self-service rules for the two groups of counties; they’re slightly different.

For ‘Eastern Oregon,’ gas stations in a county with a population below 40,000 may allow self-service 24 hours a day. However, if the gas station is part of a retail establishment that sells products such as snacks, food, and beverages then the gas station must have an employee available for full-service between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.

For Clatsop, Tillamook, and Curry, gas stations may allow self-service only after 6:00 p.m. and before 6:00 a.m. However, if the gas station is part of a retail establishment that sells products such as snacks, food, and beverages then the gas station must have an employee available for full-service as long as the retail portion of the establishment is still open.

This raises some obvious questions; well, at least obvious to an economist. Questions like, what are the chances that I find myself at a gas station in Eastern Oregon without a mini-mart? Does this mean I’ll have to pump my own gas when I ski Anthony Lakes this winter? What about when I head to the Dragon Boat races at Wallowa Lake this summer? Will this cause a tsunami of gas station layoffs? In order to answer these questions, let’s look at some employment data.

Gas Station Employment in Oregon vs. the 18 Counties

Oregon’s gas station employment has grown steadily in recent years. The state had 967 gas stations that employed 11,273 workers in third quarter 2017. This was an increase of 15.0 percent, or 1,473 workers, since 2010. With a population of more than 4 million people, this means there was one gas station for every 4,282 residents of the state and 2.7 gas station workers for every 1,000 residents. Overall, gas station employment represented 0.5 percent of Oregon’s total labor force.

In comparison, the 18 counties where self-service is now legal had 137 gas stations with total employment of 1,710 in 2017. Gas station employment for the group grew 26.2 percent since 2010, adding 354 workers. With a combined population of 308,000, this means there was one gas station for every 2,249 residents of the 18 counties and 5.5 workers for every 1,000 residents. Overall, gas station employment represented 1.2 percent of the labor force.

Growth in gas station employment since 2010 was much higher in the 18-county group than in Oregon overall. While Oregon added more than 1,400 workers in the industry, roughly one-fourth of those workers were in counties that together accounted for just 7.7 percent of the state’s population. The 18-county group had nearly twice as many gas stations per capita and twice as many gas station workers per capita.

On the surface, this suggests that rural Oregonians may actually have a larger selection of gas stations to choose from and an easier time finding an attendant when it’s time to fill-er-up. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that many different types of occupations can be found at a gas station. Gas station workers can be mechanics, cashiers, janitors, lube technicians, cooks, servers, pump attendants, or other varied positions. For example, travel centers or truck stops generally employ a large workforce because they offer a variety of services such as restaurants, repairs, and retail. These workers show up as gas station workers; however, you’ll likely have trouble convincing many of them to pump your gas. This means that the total number of gas station workers is not the total number of pump attendants.

Furthermore, while the 18-county group overall has a high number of gas stations per capita, this doesn’t necessarily translate to more options for rural residents. In general, a higher number of gas stations are found along major transportation arteries and in areas with larger populations. Residents in isolated rural areas can be faced with only one or two options for fuel. Wallowa County, for example, has four main towns and only five gas stations. Also, while the majority of gas stations and their employment is captured in the above data, some gas stations and their employment is not. Gas stations can also be attached to grocery stores, casinos, or other establishments. Data for these stations is often captured for the establishment overall and not broken into smaller detail. Therefore, the actual number of gas stations and employment in some areas is slightly underrepresented because the data is difficult to separate.
What of Mini-Marts?

Under the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) a gas station falls under one of two categories; 447110 – gas stations with convenience stores; and 447190 – other gas stations. Gas stations with convenience stores sell gasoline and either convenience store or food mart items, or both. In Oregon, 70 percent of gas stations fall under this category and in the 18-county group it’s a larger 77 percent.

Other gas stations are stand-alone stations that sell only gasoline, or they are gas stations that sell gasoline and also provide repair services, and/or provide food services. This makes the category a little trickier to get a handle on. While 23 percent of gas stations in the 18-county group are categorized as other gas stations, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re without a convenience store. For instance, some travel centers such as Flying J, Love’s, or Pilot fall under this category. These gas stations offer a wide variety of services. In addition, many gas stations in the category offer repair services, but also have convenience stores. These are generally included in the category due to the repair portion of the business; however, this does not exclude them from having a convenience store.

This implies that if you get gas in Eastern Oregon, or anywhere in rural Oregon, there’s a high likelihood the gas station you fuel up at will also have some sort of mini-mart. Which bodes well for residents who prefer not to pump their own gas. At least from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

What of Tsunamis and Dragon Boats?

While the new law creates an opportunity for self-service, it doesn’t require it. Companies are left to operate within the stipulations of the law, such as the availability of full-service at retail establishments during daytime operating hours.

As with any law, the way an individual firm will react is largely unknown. One gas station may pull back on full-service to save on costs. A competitor may seize this opportunity to attract customers by maintaining or increasing the level of full-service offered. A gas station that requires self-service after 6:00 p.m. may find customers begin to fill up mainly during the day. This highlights that consumer actions will also have an impact. In this case, the station might respond by hiring more workers to handle the increased volume over a shorter period. And since gas station employment is not limited to pump attendants, workers who spend less time manning the pumps may spend more time doing other duties.

As for having to pump your own gas when you ski Anthony Lakes, you’ll likely still find a gas station that offers full-service in Baker City or La Grande. But, when you check out the Dragon Boats at Wallowa Lake this summer, well, that’s kind of up in the air.

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