Carl Wagner was trying to pick up his car after a repair at an Arlington service station last year when the attendant helping him kept being interrupted by people pulling in to buy gasoline.
When Wagner asked the employee why he kept running out to the gas pumps, he was surprised to find out that Arlington has a local law on the books prohibiting people from pumping their own gas.
Now Wagner, 43 , has filed an article asking Arlington’s annual Town Meeting this spring to repeal what he believes to be an outdated ban on self-service gasoline stations.
“To me, this seems like a little bit of unnecessary restriction from the point of view of government in a time when technology has advanced, and I think people are already comfortable in other towns with having to pump their own gas,” said Wagner, a Town Meeting member.
Arlington banned self-service at gasoline stations in 1975 and is one of a dwindling number of towns in Massachusetts that require full service at the pump.
Weymouth, Milford, and Upton also do not allow self-serve gasoline stations, but the state fire marshal’s office, which oversees plans required for all self-serve stations, does not keep a list of which communities require full service, said Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for the office. Mieth said no one in the office could think of another community in the state that does not allow self-service.
In Weymouth, Fire Chief Joseph Davis said the ban on self-service stations was passed in the 1970s after several accidents involving people pumping their own gas. Davis said people have pulled away from the pump with the nozzle still in their car, and the biggest concern is gasoline spills.
“It is a fire safety issue,” Davis said.
But some communities have reconsidered their self-service bans in recent years, in part because of advances in fire suppression. Holbrook overturned its ban on self-service in 2008.
Wagner, who moved back to Arlington after growing up in the town, said he thinks technology has improved enough to allow self-service stations. He said he does not want to do away with full service altogether, but he wants the option to pump his own gas.
Wagner said he thinks it would be faster than waiting on an attendant who is also serving several other vehicles. He speculated that gasoline prices might also go down in Arlington if service stations did not have to have an employee doing all the pumping.
Davis said he has not noticed any difference in gasoline prices in Weymouth when compared with surrounding towns with self-service.
Eddie Saoud, manager of Eli’s Service Station on Broadway in Arlington, said he pumped gas for 17 years and would welcome a repeal of the self-service ban in Arlington. Saoud said a repeal could help service stations in Arlington compete with those in the surrounding towns that offer self-service.
“This town here, they are very strict,” Saoud said. “They want it the old-fashioned way.”
But Abe Salhi, owner of Arlington Global Service Station on Massachusetts Avenue, said he has had problems with people who try to pump their own gas, and he wants to keep full service.
With self-service, Salhi said, he would have to worry about drunk drivers, people talking on their cellphones and not paying attention, and people breaking pumps by driving away with the nozzle still in their cars.
“It’s not good for me,” Salhi said. “I like to have contact with the customer.”
Salhi said some people might lose their jobs if self-service stations were allowed in Arlington. But he said he would still need an attendant to monitor the pumps and provide full service to customers who still want or need it.
Lorraine Stevens, an 80-year-old Arlington resident who walks with a cane, said if she could not get full service, she would go somewhere else.
“That’s why I come here, because we don’t have self-service,” Stevens said.
Wagner said in the course of gathering signatures to get his proposal on the warrant for Town Meeting, he has found that everyone has their own reasons why they want to keep or get rid of the ban. He said people have frequently told him they like full service because they like to be treated “like a king or a queen.”
Wagner said he expects to take his idea to the Board of Selectmen on Monday, before it goes to Town Meeting, which begins on April 22.
Wagner said he is looking forward to the proposal going up for a vote and hearing opinions for and against keeping the ban.
“When we get together for our Town Meeting in April, be prepared for all sorts of insightful reasons why we should or shouldn’t, and be prepared for some crazy ones,” he said.
Brock Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.