by Andrew Garda
While Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order closing all non-essential businesses to the public has left gas stations free to continue to operate, some have decided to shut off their pumps.
Lukoil, at 632 Valley Road in Upper Montclair, Valero, at 120 Watchung Ave., and Delta, at 2 Orange Road, are closed, though Valero had a handwritten sign that read, “New Hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., hopefully temporary.”
The station was not active during those business hours on Friday, April 3.
Two other Delta stations in Montclair — one at 651 Bloomfield Ave. and another at 223 Harrison Ave., on the border with West Orange, remain open. The Delta on Harrison runs gas from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, while the mechanics work from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The Delta on Bloomfield did not answer phone calls.
The Exxon at 264 Bloomfield remains open 24 hours a day. The Shell station at 115 Bloomfield is also open but was unable to be reached for specific hours.
The 76 station at 45 Claremont Ave. will close for the next week, according to an employee at the station, and then decide what to do going forward.
New Jersey is the only remaining state to be completely full-service at the pump, with Oregon allowing self-service in counties with 40,000 or fewer residents. The ban on self-service fuel filling has been in place since 1949, when service station owners lobbied to get rid of it. It has survived in part because of concerns about safety and jobs.
There has been pressure building to change that during the COVID-19 pandemic, though.
According to an article on CSPDailyNews.com, which covers news in the convenience and petroleum retail sectors, the New Jersey Gasoline-Convenience-Automotive Association recently sent a letter to Murphy asking for a temporary suspension of the self-service ban and outlining the risks a full-service employee may face even with precautions in place.
The NJGCA represents a group of independently owned fuel retailers. Sal Risalvato, executive director of NJGCA, expressed concern that employees cannot follow the recommended six-foot distancing while fueling vehicles and have to handle money or credit cards.
“There have been many instances in which motorists have insisted on pumping their own gas and have refused to allow attendants to even touch their credit cards,” Risalvato stated in the article.
All open gas stations are attempting to follow the health and safety guidelines to avoid spreading COVID-19. Attendants wear gloves while working the gas pump, and many are wearing masks.
Oregon recently lifted its total ban on customers pumping gas. According to an April 1 article on CSPDailyNews.com, the move was to help ease labor issues stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak, which has resulted in employees who were unable to work due to health issues, find day care for their children, or were just too worried about exposure to contagion.
There are concerns that the virus could spread via gas pumps as well, though there have been no definitive answers as to how long it can live on various surfaces.
Murphy indicated on March 31 that the state has no plans to revisit the law at this time. He said at his Friday, April 3, press conference in East Orange: “I will not commit political suicide this morning in East Orange. I’m not going near who pumps the gas.”
Meanwhile, with the recent stay-at-home orders across most states, gas sales have dipped along with prices. The Associated Press reported early last week that the average price in New Jersey was down nine cents from the previous week and 45 cents from the same time in 2019.