Editor’s note: This article is part of a series in which Newsday attempts to answer questions from Long Islanders about life on the Island. If there’s a question you want us to answer, send it to us here.
Why can’t you pump your own gas in Huntington?
The short answer: The ban on pumping your own gas — the only such law on the books in New York State — was put in place as a safety concern, but that’s about all anyone has to say about it.
The long answer: If you’ve ever stopped at a Huntington gas station, you know the deal — every station is full service.
Despite several instances of contention, pumping gas on your own has been illegal in the Town of Huntington since the 1980s. No other town in New York State prohibits self-service, according to the Gasoline and Automotive Service Dealers Association. Around the country, only New Jersey still has a complete self-service prohibition.
It begs the question: Why is there a ban?
“What happened was it was first enacted decades ago when the fire department came to the town,” said A.J. Carter, Huntington’s public information officer. “They were concerned that improper use of the pumps could create a fire hazard.”
So the ban is in place for safety. But that raises a second question: Why does Huntington consider self-service gas stations a safety hazard when other Long Island towns do not?
Neither officials in town hall nor the fire marshal provided any additional information on the reasoning behind the ban, so the details of the decision remain unclear.
Ralph Bombardiere, executive director of the Service Dealers Association, which represents the interests of automotive service stations in the metropolitan area, said that he had appealed to the town to lift the ban about five times in the 1980s and 1990s.
Bombardiere said self-service is advantageous for three reasons: It can reduce costs for station owners, lower gas prices and ensure employee safety.
“Gas stations are exposed, 24-hour operations,” Bombardiere said. “When one worker is outside the station, they are subject to crime.”
New Jersey, which implemented its self-service ban in 1949, shared the Huntington Fire Department’s sentiment that full service would ensure customer safety. And just as Bombardiere’s organization did in Huntington, the New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Association fought against the law.
“Somebody get me all of the people that have started fires and burned down gas stations in those 40 years,” Sal Risalvato, the association’s executive director, said of the time leading up to the New Jersey ban. “It just doesn’t happen.”
Risalvato, who owned an Exxon station for 23 years, said that he has protested the law since the late 1970s. Like Bombardiere, he said that lifting the ban would reduce costs, prices and danger for workers. But just as in Huntington, his efforts have not gained any traction.
“Lawmakers are reluctant to talk about self-service because there’s this culture in New Jersey, literally a culture, with T-shirts saying ‘Jersey Girls Don’t Pump Gas,’ ” Risalvato said. “New Jerseyans wear it like a badge of honor that they don’t pump their own gas.”
Efforts to reverse the law in Huntington have died down.
“It was such a brick wall that it just didn’t pay to go back,” Bombardiere said. “Gas stations have learned to live with it.”