I am always shocked when I go to a petrol station. The layout- in the UK, at least- seems to be fairly standard. But it always seems to me to be incredibly inefficient.

These are the issues:

  1. When you have two pumps- one in front of the other- and the second pump is in use, nobody can access the first pump.
  2. When you pay for your petrol, you can get stuck in a queue at the checkout.
  3. Nowadays many petrol stations also have a shop, so many people in there won't even be buying petrol at all, but will delay petrol-buyers further.


In the diagram below, pumps 1,3,5 and 7 are all not in use despite a queue of traffic down the road waiting.

Whatsmore, the four drivers using the other pumps are having to queue in the shop to pay*, while the lady at the front of the queue is holding up the whole station by buying her weekly shop, and a bunch of scratch-cards.

enter image description here

Can anybody suggest ways to make the process more efficient, without expanding the size of forecourt or employing more staff to take payment?

**I'm aware that some petrol stations now allow paying at the pump directly. This definitely helps, but my experience is that people tend not to use that facility if they can avoid it.*

  • 1
    Just wondering: why is it always an old lady? – Marjan Venema Aug 2 '13 at 8:54
  • 3
    @MarjanVenema It isn't always an old lady. Just this one time. Last week it was an old man. – Urbycoz Aug 2 '13 at 9:00
  • 3
    @JonW This is a UX forum, right? I think this is an interesting UX question- That's all. For that matter, is this guy constructing calculators? – Urbycoz Aug 2 '13 at 13:25
  • 2
    I, for one, think this question is a good fit for this website. It seems practical and answerable. Whether it fits with 'an actual problem you face', well, that's subjective in itself -- I'd say it does. While the question may be slightly hypothetical, it does prompt constructive thought and ideas about good solutions that are transmutable to other problems. – Brendon Aug 2 '13 at 14:59
  • 3
    I think this is a good question. Part of UX is standing back from 'things as they are' to consider whether there are better ways of doing things. – PhillipW Aug 2 '13 at 19:40

Single row of pumps, set at an angle. Vehicles can then enter, fill and exit without blocking anyone else or risking scratching another vehicle.

Would require a long narrow piece of land to accommodate this layout.

enter image description here

  • Would there be issues with the pump not stretching round for larger vehicles with fuel caps on the right hand side? – Urbycoz Aug 2 '13 at 12:34
  • @Urbycoz pumps in the UK are now advertised has having "extra long hoses" so you can reach across to the other side of the car should you have to pull up to the "wrong" side of a pump. Of course it would be better if all cars had the filler cap on the same side. – ChrisF Aug 2 '13 at 13:39
  • 1
    @ChrisF When I fill up I always just choose whichever pumps is free and use the extra long hose. But I've noticed that lots of people are reluctant to do this. I'm not sure why this is- perhaps they are worried the hose won't reach and they will have lost their place in the queue. – Urbycoz Aug 5 '13 at 8:17
  • @Urbycoz - I suspect that this is the case. People's behaviour is very hard to change. – ChrisF Aug 5 '13 at 8:59
  • 1
    @ChrisF In a funny kind of way, I feel like this design actually solves the problem of people being reluctant to use the long hose. If their fuel-cap is on the other side, they kinda have to. – Urbycoz Aug 5 '13 at 13:15

One approach which I've seen used (but only in France) is to have a 'drive through' cashier on the road exiting the filling station:

This means that people don't worry about driving off the pumps immediately they've filled as they can't be doing a runner (which I think people worry about if they try to move their car off the pumps without paying first in a conventionally designed station.)

This means that the pumps are vacated as soon as filling has finished rather than being left with cars parked on them while people go off to pay.

It also means that there's no opportunity to 'fill and run' as there can be a barrier blocking exit from the site :-)

  • There's an ASDA filling station near me (in the UK) which does this. The cashier hands you the PIN machine for your payment card through the window, so you don't even have to hand your card over. – Andrew Leach Nov 19 '13 at 8:13

Changed the angle of @Dereck answer :-) And added open window for cashier to collect money from drivers before they fill in petrol. Assuming drivers are paying money for petrol before they fill in.

enter image description here

  • 4
    Usually petrol stations only operate a window at night, and that's generally for safety. Believe it or not, petrol stations don't actually make much money from selling petrol. It is essential that people go into the shop and buy other items. – Brendon Aug 2 '13 at 11:12
  • 1
    @Hasanga They pay for petrol before they fill up? How do they know how much to pay? – Urbycoz Aug 2 '13 at 11:17
  • This answer is preferable to me since it allows for both "left hand side fill" and "right hand side fill" cars, which appear to exist in a pretty even distribution. – Mels Aug 2 '13 at 11:25
  • 1
    Also, @Brendon's comment is very important to consider, since that means long waiting times actually benefit station owners (due to increased impulse purchases). – Mels Aug 2 '13 at 11:27
  • 1
    I like this. With regards to pulling up on the wrong side, most don't know about the visual guide on the fuel gauge to remind them which side the filler is on. Although a lot are just inpatient. – Dereck Johnson Aug 2 '13 at 13:47

From a business point of view, it is very good that you have to queue in the shop in order to pay. By forcing you into the shop, you are more likely to buy something, and more so by queuing next to all the goods stands. From a psychology point of view - you are much more likely to buy something when you see it, let alone be in front of it.

Although not exactly 'exit through the gift shop' this strategy was implemented in patrol stations to maximize profit. I know this because I had a chance to briefly work with a guy that worked for the company that pitched the concept to petrol stations back in the 1990s.


In busy petrol stations, you will typically find there is a row of car park spaces just beyond the pumps. Once people have finished filling the car, they are prompted to drive forwards and park their car. Only then should they enter the shop to pay.

It has the advantage that people are not parking their cars next to the pumps. They can also spend more time in the shop, without the pressure of being quick to move their car.

I don't think the single-lining of pumps will be economical from a land value point-of-view.

My local petrol station uses this format, and it seems to work well. Car A moves to the front pump and starts filling car. Car B moves to back pump and starts filling car. Car A moves into a bay. After short delay, Car B can also drive straight through into a bay. Then Cars C and D can start the filling process over, without having to wait for the first two cars to pay.

Petrol Station

  • My worry would be that the cashier would confuse my fuel order with that of the car behind me. How would that work? What if I take so long in the shop that the guy using the pump after me actually comes to pay before me? – Urbycoz Aug 2 '13 at 10:52
  • @Urbycoz Most petrol stations I have been in ask you to confirm the amount. Normally, the petrol station charges for the first unpaid amount rather than the last amount. (There's normally a list of orders on the computer, and whether each has been paid -- they can be paid in any order). So, it would be impossible for the cashier to confuse your order with the car behind. Also, if the guy behind pays before you, he will know if he is being charged the wrong amount and correct it. – Brendon Aug 2 '13 at 11:10
  • Would he always correct it? People often don't check the value properly. Also, an unscrupulous motorist might deliberately choose to pay your amount if it is less than his. – Urbycoz Aug 2 '13 at 11:14
  • @Urbycoz It wouldn't matter. You only pay for what you have purchased. If somebody pays your amount, you can pay it again. The petrol station will simply put a marker against his registration for theft. If he wanted to thieve petrol, he could have driven off without paying anything. Since it takes maybe 2 minutes to fill a car and enter the shop, 99% of transactions will be in the correct order. Also, such mistakes happen without such car park -- sometimes people get pump numbers wrong, for example. – Brendon Aug 2 '13 at 11:18
  • 1
    I guess you're right. I just worry that someone could get hunted down by police for mistakenly verifying £46.55 when it was actually £64.55. I can see myself making that mistake. – Urbycoz Aug 2 '13 at 12:39

The user interface at a petrol station is a shared experience. There is a complicated interaction between the cashier and the various pumps, for example, that really doesn't care about how fast you can pump your gas and leave. That interaction is concerned with making sure you pay, and (as others here have mentioned) can be designed to slow you down.

Standing in line is always an opportunity for a retailer to sell you more while you are waiting. The petrol station, after all, is a retail UX. The petrol station ('gas station' here in America) is actually a very efficient retail store, in the sense that I rarely ever see one go out of business.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.