Sunday, November 28, 2010

How about letting the consumers decide?

The WSJ reports that, once again, New Jersey is considering ending its ban on pump-your-own gas. Other than Oregon, Long Island, and one other New York community, Americans pump their own gas. But in New Jersey, doing it yourself is banned. Some New Jerseyites like sitting in their car and having an attendant serve them. They already have one of the cheapest gas prices in the nation. So the article talks to people from both sides of the do-it-yourself divide.

I know that the only time I'd ever driven through New Jersey a few years ago, I was extremely irritated to have to wait in long lines on the turnpike while too few attendants tried to take care of too many cars. Drivers sat in their cars for several minutes each time to wait for the attendant to come over, stick in the pump, and then again to come back and take the money. It was infuriating. Apparently Governor Corzine had wanted to allow pump-it-yourself gas on the New Jersey Turnpike but gave up the idea in 2006 after public complaints.

Nowhere in the article is there discussion of what seems like the obvious Solomonesque compromise. Lift the ban and let the gas station owners decide if they want to go to all self-serve, half and half, or all service. Let the customers decide which they prefer. See if the drivers on the Turnpike really do prefer to go wait in line for an attendant instead of getting out to pump it themselves. See if the price of gas drops and if people are willing to pay a few cents more per gallon to have some one come out in the rain to fill their tanks. Or see if drivers on the Why have the government decide what it is that people should have? This is the sort of choice that the market is much better at deciding than government officials.