x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Emirati Life: self-service at petrol stations is not a good idea

ENOC will introduce self-service fuel pumping at selected stations in July but the move may not be right for the UAE.

'What are you doing?" yelled a petrol station attendant in my direction.

It was my first day driving in the state of New Jersey and I had just lifted the nozzle from the fuel dispenser in an attempt to pump petrol.

"Isn't it obvious?" I replied, gesturing at my car with the nozzle.

After noticing my California licence plates, he quickly realised I was a recent arrival who was oblivious to the Garden State's laws, which makes it one of the only two states, the other being Oregon, where it is still illegal to pump your own petrol.

This seemed like an oddity, initially, as I had been living most of my life in a state that had started the self-service fuelling trend back in 1947.

But sitting back in my car while someone else did the pumping for me brought up memories of the full-service petrol stations in the UAE.

On many an occasion, I recounted to my West Coast friends how deluxe the service was at petrol stations in the Emirates, where someone would wash your windows and even check your fluids while they topped your car up.

Nothing had changed when I recently returned and although I initially felt lazy and guilty, I quickly adapted to the idea of having to do no more than roll my window down and voice my request.

It causes me concert that some stations have begun changing this system of convenience with the introduction of self-service pumps aimed at familiarising drivers with the process.

Many are saying it's about time and are calling for an eventual shift to an all self-service system similar to what currently exists in Europe or most of the US.

But this same "pump-it-yourself" experiment was attempted a few years ago and, not surprisingly, failed - two-thirds of drivers said they didn't like it.

This disapproval not only stemmed from unfamiliarity with the system, but also from the cultural factors of the country.

The UAE is known around the world for its ease of living and abundance of services, which attracts visitors in the millions every year. Not having to fill up your own car is undoubtedly one of them.

Should not the petrol station services be in-line with those offered at the malls, hotels, restaurants and places of work and residences?

And what of the women who would prefer not to exit their vehicles for various reasons? Many Emirati female drivers prefer tinted windows to maintain privacy. This would be for naught if they had to get out and handle a nozzle in front of a long line of cars.

Even if a choice of self or full service was provided, an Emirati woman willing to pump her own petrol told me she would be concerned that others would think she has chosen the self-help option to parade herself.

Having a more self-sufficient populous is undoubtedly beneficial to the nation as a whole, but this goal should not come at the expense of removing what is now an inherent and necessary service to many.

Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter for The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US


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