Self-Service Gas Stations Are Now the Norm

  • By Jo Jae-hee

    November 07, 2023 08:32

    Self-service gas stations outnumber the serviced kind for the first time in Korea. According to the Korea National Oil Corporation, self-service gas stations where customers must fill up their own tanks made up 52 percent of all 10,865 gas stations at the end of last month. 
    The increase is mainly due to a sharp rise in labor costs as the minimum wage jumped, and it has become difficult to find part-timers. Many serviced gas stations have converted to self-service.
    In 2010, when the number of gas stations across the country peaked at 12,898, there were only 374 self-service gas stations, accounting for 2.9 percent, but by 2019 they had increased by 650, and this year alone another 360 were added. Any new gas stations that open are typically self-service. 
    The bigger the city, the higher the self-service ratio. Daejeon had the highest proportion with 169 out of 212 gas stations or 80 percent, followed by Busan (74 percent), Ulsan (69 percent), Incheon (68 percent), and Seoul (61 percent). South Jeolla Province had the lowest proportion with 28 percent, followed by Jeju (34 percent) and South Chungcheong Province (42 percent). 
    A man fills up his car at a self-service gas station in Seoul, in this file photo from January 2019.
    Shim Jae-myung of the Korea Oil Station Association, said, "In large cities, there is intense price competition among gas stations, so many are converting to self-service to reduce labor costs and lower their selling prices."
    The trend is global. In the U.S., self-service stations made up over 80 percent as early as 1992, and in Japan, which was late to the party, they account for 40 percent.
    Conversion to self-service has grown significantly since 2018, when the minimum wage sharply increased. A staffer at a major oil company said, "Gas stations either reduce their margins to cover labor costs or, if that can't be done, convert to self-service."
    Kim Hyeong-geon of Kangwon National University estimates that self-service gas stations could save about W30 per liter of gasoline. "Considering the increased business hours and cost savings it's a natural choice," he said.
    Labor shortages are another factor. A gas station owner in southern Seoul said, "In the past, students used to work part-time at gas stations, but these days they find the job hard and bad for their health."
    But the trend is also a loss for older jobseekers who lack skills. A government official said, "For elderly jobseekers who find it difficult to work in convenience stores or coffee shops, even the remaining jobs are disappearing due to rapid social changes." 
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