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.
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.