Decades-old rules ban gas stations from allowing drivers to pump their own gas in two Metro Vancouver communities – but some gas stations aren't exactly following the letter of the law.
Instead, drivers in Coquitlam and Richmond, B.C. are treated to better service from more attendants, but those attendants let drivers gas up themselves if they want to.
It's a balance struck between laws designed for the technology of a different age, and motorists used to going it alone in most other jurisdictions, and the mayor of Richmond is OK with it.
“I guess some people are impatient. They just want to get out and pump their own gas. I’m not about to scramble the jets or set my hair on fire over it, but those are the rules,” Mayor Malcolm Brodie said.
The outcome, he said, is still an improvement in service and price: prices for full-service gas in Richmond and Coquitlam rival the price of self-service gas in other jurisdictions like Vancouver.
“Because of the competitive pressures, we get the full-service gas at what would be self-service prices elsewhere,” he said.
Compare that attitude to Oregon, where a rule change that allowed gas stations in low-populated areas to ask drivers to pump themselves resulted in very worried consumers.
In some gas stations in Richmond CTV News saw as many as four gas attendants in reflective vests – often helping drivers out.
Some didn’t want to wait.
“It’s not rocket science,” said Lei Huo. “If you can drive a car, I’m pretty sure you can pump your own gas.”
Others got out and filled up themselves it out of habit.
“I’m just used to doing it myself,” a man told CTV News.
Technically – that’s not allowed, according to those cities’ bylaws. The pumping policies were adopted in Coquitlam in 1959 and Richmond seven years later.
In Coquitlam, their bylaw says “fuel must be dispensed only by personnel of the business retailing the fuel.”
In Richmond, the law says stations are forbidden from “installing or operating a customer-operated pump.”
"Safety was uppermost in their mind and then in the '70s, they looked at it, it was jobs," Brodie said.
But the world has changed around the two cities, and automatic machines are now the norm across jurisdictions, said GasBuddy analyst Dan McTeague.
"As far as the gas pumps are concerned, one size fits all. They're all made to a self-serve spec.," McTeague told CTV.
CTV News also saw drivers expecting full service have to get out and pay at the machine themselves.
No company we approached, or the owners of the franchises, would speak to CTV about their policies. One owner said off the record that the devices can be controlled from the cash register.
Parkland Fuel Corporation, which purchased Chevron’s downstream operations last year, send CTV News a statement: “Parkland is of the view that its fuel dispensing operations at its stations in the City of Richmond are in compliance with the City’s bylaw regarding full-serve.”
Most full-service stations are staffed with several attendants, unlike in Vancouver were a station CTV visited Thursday claimed full-service but had no attendant on shift.
Offering self-serve only is a challenge for some drivers, Brodie said.
"With an aging population, people aren't that thrilled about getting out of their cars."
And the pressures of competition have made full- and self-serve prices nearly the same. Drivers pay as much as in other cities, but have the option to do a lot less work.