Technology now allows us to stream movies, call a ride, or get dinner delivered almost effortlessly. But amid all this innovation, one community staple has gone virtually unchanged over the last century: the gas station.
When I started my career in fire prevention, the gas station was where a uniformed serviceman would pump your gas, wash your windows, and put air in your tires — all for 36 cents a gallon. How times have changed!
Today, most of us take gas stations for granted. We simply accept that they are sources of air and groundwater pollution, the location of 5,000 fires a year, and a magnet for petty theft and violent crimes. They contribute to traffic congestion at rush hour and heightened vulnerability at night, particularly for the elderly, families, and Americans with disabilities. It doesn’t have to be this way.
One solution that can be put in place today is on-demand fueling. These services provide fuel to cars parked at work. All you do is push a button on your smartphone, pop open your fuel door, and return to your car at the end of the day with a full tank. Examples are WeFuel and Booster Fuels.
The convenience benefits are obvious. But the safety and environmental benefits are just as significant. The three most common gas station crimes (credit card skimming, property theft and assaults) are all prevented because the customer is not present and the car is secure.
When mobile fueling is done responsibly, the fuel supply chain can completely bypass transfers into and out of underground tanks, thus reducing smog-inducing vapor emissions and preventing groundwater contamination. That’s why fortune 500 companies and former EPA Administrators like Bill Ruckelshaus are interested in these technologies. Finally, trips to the gas station are eliminated which reduces CO2 emissions and traffic congestion.
Most importantly for me, mobile fueling reduces the risk of fire. Gasoline is a hazardous, flammable material. And many of us are less than attentive when we fuel our cars.
Every day, millions of Americans top off their tanks, leading to spills and overfills. Many of us are guilty of driving off with the fuel nozzle still in our tank. Others keep their car running while fueling, a leading cause of fires. And at least one person has set a gas station on fire by trying to kill a spider with a lighter.
Trained professionals are the solution here. For decades, commercial fleets have used mobile fueling nationwide with zero history of adverse fire incidents because of strong safety standards around equipment, training, and location.
National regulations did not anticipate this new service that consumers are demanding. It’s critical that they evolve to support the modernization of this industry.
The most obvious solution is to ride on the safety coattails of the existing commercial fleet regulations, which require onboard fire suppression and spill mitigation gear, equipment that has been certified by a nationally-recognized testing laboratory such as UL, and automatic shutoff devices. Most importantly, local fire code officials must retain the authority to set location criteria that ensure safe operations, such as open air lots some distance from public ways.
Industry leaders and code officials are already working together to develop this national standard. Now, local officials should continue to work with industry to enable this modern service to thrive during the national standard development process.
If we do, we can deliver an innovative service that creates jobs, improves safety and reduces pollution.