Gas rationing, shortage fray nerves in NYC

Associated Press Modified: November 9, 2012 at 11:01 pm •  Published: November 9, 2012
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NEW YORK (AP) — A gasoline shortage caused by Superstorm Sandy forced 1970s-era rationing on New Yorkers Friday, adding a fuel-gauge obsession to their frayed nerves and dwindling patience.

"I take passenger, I look at gas. I take another passenger, I look at gas," said New York City taxi driver Shi Shir K. Roy. "Tension all the time."

Though rationing that allowed private motorists to fill up only every other day seemed to help with gas lines, it didn't answer motorists' questions about why they had been waiting for days in hourslong lines to fuel up. The confusion led some, like Angel Ventura, to panic.

Ventura, who drives a delivery van for a camera rental company, has taken to hunting for gasoline every time his gauge drops below a quarter of a tank. "It makes me crazy, thinking I might hit empty and not be able to find it," he said.

As drivers waited on police-monitored lines, thousands more in the region got their power back for the first time since Sandy came ashore 12 days ago. Nearly 400,000 customers were still without power in New Jersey and the New York City area. President Barack Obama, who visited the battered Jersey coast two days after the storm, said he would survey the damage in New York next week from the storm, which the American Red Cross said will create its largest U.S. relief effort since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The gasoline rationing — the first in the nation's largest city since the 1970s Arab oil embargo — forced motorists to line up depending on whether their license plate ends with odd or even numbers.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said one-third of the city's gas stations were open Friday, compared to 25 percent the day before, and cautioned, "there's no guarantee that odd-even is going to make a big difference." His estimate was countered by the Energy Department, which said that more than 70 percent of the city's stations have gas available for sales.

Industry officials first blamed the shortage on gas stations that lost power, but now say the problem has shifted to supply terminals, which are either shut or operating at reduced capacity. Drivers are also quicker to top off tanks because they're afraid gasoline won't be available, AAA spokesman Michael Green said.

Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, said the densely populated New York-New Jersey area has fewer stations per capita than any other major metropolitan area, making the shortage an even bigger problem. He said rationing earlier might have helped in New York City.

"It does curb some of the manic or panic behavior," Kloza said.

Gasoline moves millions of New Yorkers, just as the subway does. Hundreds of thousands of people drive to work, especially from the outer boroughs, and taxis and delivery vans are part of every gridlocked intersection.

Friday was an "odd" day in the rationing plan, although not everyone had gotten with the program.

"Even? Odd? Whatever it is, I didn't have the right one," said Joe Standart, a 62-year-old artist whose even-numbered car was ordered off a West Side gas station line by a police officer.

Teniele Newbury, a mother of three, defended her need to use a car to go about her daily routine.

"People probably think we can take the subway," she said, "but I've got three kids I've got to drop off at three different schools. You try that on the subway with three little kids."

On Long Island, where odd-even rationing also began Friday, a spot check found shorter lines — 30 to 40 cars at most — and more stations with gas. In Brooklyn, car service owner Gary Lindenbaum said waits last week had been five or six hours.