Coquitlam’s Full-Serve Gas Stations: Outdated?

Gas in Coquitlam

I have a confession: I avoid buying gas in Coquitlam. I’ve lived in the city for over eight years now, and whenever possible I fuel up in Port Moody. I do this because I prefer to pump my own gas. It’s faster, and when I have to get out of my car anyway to type in my PIN as I pay with my debit card, I feel like I might as well just do it all myself. I’ve been driving for nearly 20 years, and I am fully competent in the ways of pumping gas.

Here in Coquitlam, however, it would be illegal for me to dispense gas. That job is reserved for gas station employees. A decades-old bylaw mandates that all gas stations in the city be full-serve, and full-serve only. Lou Sekora actually listed enacting that bylaw as one of his notable achievements during the municipal elections this past November. He argues that his forward-thinking protected jobs in the city. The idea is that if self-serve gas is illegal, gas stations have to employ more people to pump gas.

How well does this bylaw actually work, though? Gas station owners can’t charge a premium for full-serve when self-serve is illegal, if they want to keep their customers. This means they need to absorb the costs of additional employees. They also lose customers like me, who grew up at a time when pumping your own gas was the order of the day, and prefer the speed and efficiency of getting in and out as quickly as possible. I’ve seen a number of gas stations close down for good in Coquitlam since I moved here, and I wonder if the full-serve bylaw is to blame in any way.

In spite of my self-serve ways, I will concede that some situations call for full-serve gas. For example, a group in Vernon is asking their city to enact a bylaw insisting that one-third of all pumps in the city be full-serve, on behalf of people with mobility issues. However, I think that we could easily meet the needs of those who require full-serve gas stations without going so far as to forbid me from pumping my own gas if I prefer it. Surely a compromise position could be reached.

Just about a year ago Coquitlam began a process to make business improvements and remove outdated rules in the city. One example of an improvement they’re making in the short-term is creating a more flexible approach for processing cemetery arrangements after normal working hours. Basically, they’re trying to make it easier to get things done in Coquitlam. One of the longer-term goals contained in the document I saw reads:

Service Station Bylaw: Review zoning regulations to assess implications of providing opportunities for ‘Gas & Food’ / self-serve gas outlets

This suggests that the city itself is also asking if the full-serve gas bylaw is outdated. I think it is. I wonder if you agree.

Do you think that all gas stations in Coquitlam should be full-serve only? Why or why not? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. Randy Taylor says:

    The combination self/full serve gives every one the option. I also like to pump my own gas but there are definitely times when I don’t want to such as if I’m dressed in good clothes or if you are a senior. Choice is always good!

  2. I absolutely agree that the bylaw is ridiculous. I also avoid buying gas in Coquitlam, and I’ve had several times when I have entered my credit/debit info and then had to wait so long for someone to help me that the transaction timed out – irritating!! I think having mostly self-serve with a few full-serve, like pretty much every other gas station in Vancouver, is perfect.

  3. I actually avoid buying gas in other municipalities because I detest having to even touch the filthy gas pumps. Sure I can and often do pump my own gas but why not create a little employment by letting someone else pump the gas? Keep the full-serve.

  4. This gives people employment and it gives young people employment. They may be paid minimum wage but in this ever changing society of automation I am on the side of full serve.

  5. Customer service is definitely not outdated. With the price of gas these days, we should be thrilled to get the extra service. Today I got the air in all 4 tires checked, one was low; my oil checked and the attendant noticed my brake fluid was dangerously low. For the extra 6 min it took him to do all this and fill my tank it was worth it…and I didn’t even have to leave the comfort of my car! Say YES to customer service being the new competitve edge in business!

  6. I have to laud this as one of Coquitlam’s achievements. I have a mobility impairment. For nine years I was a wheelchair-user and drove a lift-equipped van. Finding full-serve pumps, let alone service outside of Coquitlam was often a daunting task. For those who want choice, I believe every other municipality in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley will provide it. Let’s encourage the other municipalities to create jobs and customer service, prevent gas spills, keep gas station pump areas tidy and follow the lead of a progressive city. Stacey, Kathy and Ana – I agree with you!

  7. For another take on the whole self-serve thing, check out Shannon Rupp’s article at The Tyee. I tend to agree with her opposition to “shadow workers.” Quite frankly, I’d rather someone be employed to pump my gas than support Big Oil’s bottom line with my own labour.

    • I read the article and I understand the point, although I stand by what I wrote when I said that sometimes it’s just more convenient for me to do things for myself. For instance, I well remember standing in bank line-ups with my mother as a child. It was not what I would call a good time. I am not inclined to start standing in them again when I can use the bank machine much more quickly. In many cases, I have found it much faster and easier to do things myself, and I think that’s okay.

      There is an opportunity cost that comes from waiting around. We’re ensuring that someone else is being compensated, but we’re also giving more time to that person as we wait for them to serve us. In the full-serve gas example, I once sat in my car with a screaming baby for 4 minutes, waiting to be helped. Let me tell you that 4 minutes feels like a very long time when you have a screaming baby. If the standard of service offered is superior to doing it myself I will absolutely use it, but when it isn’t, I don’t feel as if I’m engaged in unpaid employment, I feel as if I’m valuing my own time.

      There’s one more thing I want to say – gas stations are independently owned, and the people who own them are typically operating on a very thin margin. You can be sure that when the owners are paying for full-serve staff, that they don’t somehow get a discount from the big oil companies. The oil companies are making money either way, it’s the business owner who has to balance the books. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t offer full-serve, of course. But I would argue that our municipal governments need to balance everyone’s needs – those who physically can’t pump their own gas, young people looking for employment, small business owners, and people like me who prefer speed at the gas station. This is why I think a compromise position is preferable.

      • Better check your facts. As a retired firefighter with the City of Coquitlam I can advise you that the FD was a major supporter of the by law. Think about someone pulling into a gas station and telling the person in the office they are filling containers for a boat or lawn mower. Does anyone check to see if they are filling a legal container? Perhaps they are using plastic milk containers or even glass containers. Can anyone say Molotov Cocktail? I have often filled a container for my cabin in the back of my pickup truck and it has never been checked in Port Moody or PoCo., at least in Coquitlam they can tell it is a safe legal container.