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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- When Henry Fleishman was afflicted with a neurological disorder that required three back surgeries last year, the ordinary task of pumping gas into his car became a challenge.
Not long ago, all he would have to do was find the nearest service station and have an attendant fill his tank. Now, he can barely find such service, he told the Palm Beach Post. Of the 35 stations the newspaper surveyed near his Boynton Beach, Fla., home, it found only three that offered full service.
"I have a limited amount of energy. I can only walk four steps and into my car," said Fleishman, 72, who runs a small business that requires him to drive almost daily. "The gas station I use now is five miles away from my home, but I'll travel to get there."
Fleishman is not alone in his frustration. Senior citizens in Florida are driving in rising numbers, as more are working and live in residential communities that are short on public transportation. At the same time, full-service gas stations are almost extinct. Less than 8 percent of Florida's 9,500 gas stations offer full-service lines, said Pat Moricca, president of the Gasoline Retailers Association of Florida. "It's a serious problem here because we have a lot of senior citizens," he said. "Most of the stations today are self-serve, and you have a tendency of not checking your oil, your tires."
Two decades ago, full-service gas stations were the norm. But experts say the service began to decline in the late 1980s when big oil companies began buying up privately owned stations and shifting the focus to convenience-store stations. Also, fewer people were willing to pay the extra 50 cents to a $1.00 per gallon of gas for someone to fill their tank, wipe the windshield and check the tire pressure.
Some local residents say there is a market for full-service gas stations in the county.
"If only I could find someone who would do full-service, I'd be happy to tip a half a buck," said Leonard Tarmon, who lives west of Boynton Beach. He has had limited mobility since suffering a stroke four years ago.
Jack Ascher frequents a full-service Shell station on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Military Trail west of Delray Beach several times a week. He doesn't mind paying the additional 50 cents per gallon for the service.
"I'm a young 78 and I like people to serve me," said Ascher, who was waiting one recent morning as an attendant pumped gas in his 1979 Cadillac. "If you've got it in your pocket, spend it."
An average of five older motorists a day pay for full-service at the Shell station, with more using it during the winter, said owner James Nazarian. "The way I look at it, it's a business," he said. "In this area, there is an older clientele that require help."
A spokesman for AARP said his group has not studied the issue. But Pearl Meyers, an officer with the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations, said it will be discussed at the group's meeting this month.