Coquitlam uses by-law to create jobs

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

12 comments


Buying gas in Coquitlam, B.C. brings you back to a simpler time

During my recent trip to Oregon, I noticed a funny thing whenever I went to a gas station. A human being actually came up to my vehicle and asked me how much gas I wanted. It brought me back to my youth when almost every gas station was "full serve".

The state of Oregon and New Jersey appear to be the only American jurisdictions that have successfully legislated full service gas stations. No staff, no fuel. It's as simple as that. One city in Canada has adopted similar legislation. That city is Coquitlam, BC located just east of Vancouver.

According to city officials, the by-law requiring only full service gas stations in Coquitlam was enacted sometime in the 1970s. In fact, it goes so far back that the staff I spoke to couldn't actually remember what year it was.

Zoning Bylaw No. 3000 is broken into a number of parts, but one section relates directly to the legal requirement for full service. It states:

For service station use, fuel must be dispensed only by personnel of the business
retailing the fuel.

It is interesting to see how the power of a simple by-law enacted by a city can have a profound impact on the business model for a particular industry. This 30 year old by-law is now the reason a number of jobs have been created in the city of Coquitlam. 

Most of you must be thinking by now that gas is priced slightly higher in Coquitlam, than other Metro Vancouver cities. Well, my experience has demonstrated that the price of gas in Coquitlam is absolutely identical to that of other jurisdictions. This is despite the fact that neighbouring cities do not require their gas stations to be full service. So what gives?

If it has no impact on prices, then why have so few other cities enacted a similar by-law in their communities? You would think for some left-leaning councils (and there are many) they would see this type of by-law as a way to stick it to the big oil and gas companies.

I suspect the reason it hasn't caught on might have something to do with the likelihood the gas industry would claim a region wide by-law would result in higher costs which would be passed onto consumers. No one likes higher gas prices. However, this argument doesn't seem to hold water considering what's happened in Coquitlam.

Gas stations are also notorious for being robbed in the late evening and early morning by those seeking quick gas and an easy get away. That's why Coquitlam's by-law has the added benefit of providing enhanced security for staff as these worksites are less likely to have only one person working per shift. The death of one gas station attendant in BC actually resulted in the provincial government enacting strict new regulations to protect the safety of workers.

I must say there is something downright nostalgic about pulling up to a gas station and actually speaking to a human being rather than a machine. There is appeal to having someone clean your windshield and ask to check your oil.  In these recessionary times, it's also interesting to see how a simple city by-law can create jobs in a local community.

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In our new "green" world, will cities try to use the power of their by-laws for other interesting policies to protect the environment? How about mandating that all gas stations selling fossils fuels also be required to sell alternate fuel sources as well? Interesting to see how far some cities might be prepared to go.

Do I think small businesses such as local gas stations should be forced through by-laws to adopt a full service business model? Nope. However I do like the service I get whenever I fill up my car in Coquitlam. The windshield has never been cleaner.

12 Comments

FYI Richmond has had the same by-law in effect for years. As a motorcycle rider in the summer, I avoid these places like the plague.

As another poster notes, Richmond also has a by-law requiring 100% full-serve. And several other municipalities, including Vancouver and North Vancouver, have by-laws requiring the availability of full-serve under certain conditions or zoning.

Furthermore, the author's statements regarding price are flawed. All that is really happening is that areas with more margin are in effect subsidizing the additional cost of those regions with such a by-law. If all regions incorporated such a by-law, prices would go up overall to compensate for the additional expense.

Thanks to both of you for pointing out that Richmond also has similar legislation requiring full service gas stations. I wasn't aware of that, so appreciate you bringing that to our attention.

As for prices going up...if I were playing the role of devil's advocate, I would say a couple of pennies on each litre to add hundreds of new jobs might be worth it? But perhaps the devil is in the details.

Lastly, I'm curious as to why motorcycle riders avoid Richmond and Coquitlam? Is it that you don't like someone else putting gas in your bike?

As a resident of Coquitlam, I like the full-service aspect of filling up my car. I also dont mind paying a premium to do so although to be honest, given the price of gas, it hardly seems noticeable.

But it is ironic that Coquitlam has this by-law on the books in an attempt to help fund jobs when they also recently passed by-laws against "less disrable businesses" - a move that would seem to go against creating jobs.

Hundreds of jobs might be stretch. How many gas stations are left in Coquitlam anyway? If it's anything like Vancouver it's around 7 or 8 right? Or maybe it just feels that way.

Certainly there is a social argument but I'm generally against creating what I'd classify as "fake" jobs for services that people generally don't want. Witness a gas station in Vancouver where people can choose between filling their own tanks or paying a few more cents for full-service. People will wait in line for self-serve while the full-service island sits idle. So yes we could enact the law, create some jobs, and then spread the cost among the 95% of people who don't want it. It seems like an awfully slippery slope from there - are municipalities going to avail themselves of this for every industry or will they be content to only "stick it to the big oil and gas companies"?

As for the motorcyclists, I think that it mostly has to do with people who really care about their machines; they don't want some gas jockey spilling fuel on the paint of their pride and joy.

As a motorcyclist (in the summer anyway), consider where the tank and gas cap is. It would be awkward to say the least if I remained on the bike while it was filled by somebody else.

But also as mentioned above, I don't want somebody else getting gas on the outside of my bike, myself, the engine (it's close by and not covered).

Additionally, you can't fill a bike at full speed, it would start to spray everywhere, and the auto-shutoff doesn't work properly in a motorcycle tank.

As you can see there are many issues.

Full service create jobs for sure but also it make service faster. Customers relize in winter. when it is cold and they dont want to come out side of vehicle. But there are few people we get they dont want anyone to touch their vehicale, and they dont like to pay at pump either, and some dont want to hand in their creit card. By law does not mean, that it force you to get the service. But even i pump by my self but i have to pay same full serve price in by law cities. Another point is price in Coquitlam and Richmond is always same or less than surronding cities (port coquitlam or port moody) So where is the cost for full service? But over all, i think there should be full service all over the cities.

Why not mandate that all elevators must have elevator operators then?

Full or dual serve gas stations also are not just convenient but necessary for many people who are disabled, seniors, expectant mothers and mothers with young children. Vancouver has a long existing bylaw that required any full serve gas station wanting to upgrade and become self serve to have dual serve pumps AND offer both services at all hours the station is open. So many BC communities have disregarded this visionary bylaw and now there are few if any full or dual serve gas stations in the province.

Personally, I hate the fact that Coquitlam is full service, and usually drive elsewhere so I can pump my own gas. It was great when prices were lower and all it took was handing over a $20 bill and saying "twenty of regular" to fill up the majority of the tank, but now that prices are higher, the transactions are a lot less smooth, requiring credit card preauthorisation and random garbage.

It's just easier to do the pumping myself.

I would prefer if the bylaw were amended as, "In the absence of a request to the contrary by the vehicle owner, ..." Then the implication is full service by default, self service if you ask.

As a former motorcycle rider, and gas station attendant (High School job), and now a person with disabilites (C5/6 Quadraplegic...not related to riding motorcycles :) ) I would like to clarify a few things.
(1)A bylaw is not about "sticking it to the oil companies" since many of the stations are privately run and merely have supply contracts with major oil. So forcing stations to hire staff only affects the station owner, not big oil. It is about making a simple able-bodied task accessible and simple for ALL (disabled, elderly, moms of young children, people who simply don't want to pump their own gas)
(2)It DOES create job openings, period. For me it was my high school job that financed my first car and gave me the opportunity to work outside and deal with people. I was not interested in mall/food service jobs that are typical for that age group.
(3) There is no additional "effort" or "authorizations" as you simply hand the credit card to the attendant and they swipe it in the new style pumps and hand your card back. Much like you do with restauants. An easy next step would be the wireless visa machines that some restaurants use so you don't part with their cards.
(4)No attendant is going to wrestle the nozzle out of the hands of a motorcyclist wanting to pump their own gas, and the bylaw can be drafted to reflect this option. At worse, the attendat will hang out and you might just have an interesting conversation.
(5)As a previous attendant, you got to know the community and can create lasting relationships with the people you meet. Because of this connection, a loyalty develops with the Personalties" of the station and keeps customers comming back!
(6)Elevators - because everyone can EQUALLY operate an elevator(blind, disabled, elderly, moms w/kids etc.

This movement is all about options, and not restricting a large segment of the population of a community from independance. If a motorcyclist wants to pump his/her own gas, great, if an elderly lady likes the company and contact with the local station attendant, or if a quadraplegic needs gas to get his kids to dance class, he should not have to drive 10k out of his way to find one of the last stations still full serve.

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