Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Self-service, pay-at-the-pump gasoline is one of those modern conveniences people overlook

When I was in high school and college in Illinois in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was no such thing as pay-at-the-pump gasoline.
You had to go inside the service station and give the attendant cash in advance or your credit card to hold before you could go back outside and pump your own gas. After pumping your gas, you had to go back inside to get your change or your credit card and receipt.
Needless to say, it was a real hassle, especially when there were other customers ahead of you at the counter.
Now you can just gas and go.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking by phone with Randy Nicholson, the inventor of the first pay-at-the-pump gas system. I spoke to the 72-year-old Abilene, Texas, native for a Leaders & Success profile in Investor’s Business Daily.
Nicholson helped pioneer self-service gasoline with E-Z Serve, an independent chain of gas stations he ran. Incorporated in 1971, E-Z Serve also fueled the rise of convenience stores paired with gas stations.
E-Z Serve installed the first pay-at-the-pump system in 1981 in Hawaii, but the idea didn’t take off until the late 1980s.
Self-serve gas became a reality in 1969 when the National Fire Protection Association changed its codes to let people pump their own gas. The association determined that it was safe for consumers to do it themselves. Before then only gas station attendants could do it.
“There are still two states that don’t allow you to do self-serve and that’s Oregon and New Jersey,” Nicholson said.
“It’s being protected by the local dealers. They want to keep the higher prices and just keep the competition out,” Nicholson told me.
Oregon and New Jersey will likely cling to their outdated laws.
“They still maintain it and it’s been 40 years,” he said.

Photo: Gilbarco pay-at-the-pump system.

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