Gas Rationing Begins Amid Long Lines and Mounting Frustration at the Pumps

By Trevor KappElizabeth Hagen and Alan Neuhauser  on November 9, 2012 9:45am

NEW YORK CITY — Massive lines continued to stretch from gas stations Friday morning, even as New York City implemented a rationing system in an effort to alleviate the ongoing fuel shortage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Drivers honked and shouted as they idled behind strings of cars, some stretching as far as five blocks from fuel pumps on the first day of rationing, which allows vehicles with plates that end in odd numbers to fill up on odd-numbered dates and those with even-numbered plates to get gas on even days.

Taxis and commercial and emergency vehicles are exempt from the rationing.

"The lines are crazy all over the place," said Chris Peterson, 47, a Jamaica resident waiting to fill a fuel canister at a Mobil station on the corner of East Houston Street and Avenue C in the East Village.

"You try to prepare for storms and things of that nature, but you don't really think about gas. Now that the pumps and everything is working again, you do what you got to do."

Hurricane Sandy crippled ports, fuel refineries, pipelines and distribution centers across the tri-state area last week with floods, wind damage and power outages.

Although "the majority of the region’s pipeline and critical infrastructure" has since been restored, according to a press release distributed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office, many distribution centers remain offline, leaving dozens of Big Apple gas stations high and dry.

"Even as the region’s petroleum infrastructure slowly returns to normal, the gasoline supply remains a real problem for thousands of New York drivers," Bloomberg said in the statement.

Only 25 percent of the roughly 800 gas stations in New York City opened at any one time Thursday, a spokesman at the mayor's office said, data that is also reflected on a Google map of gas stations, pharmacies and other services.

Friday's numbers were not yet available, the spokesman said, but he advised motorists seeking updates on open gas stations to check the city's map and others maintained by private websites, such as GasBuddy.com.

Friday morning, drivers said they had little choice but to fuel up their cars, regardless of lines or prices.

"If I didn't get gas today, I'd be in big trouble," said Justin Flynn, 42, a freelance jazz saxophonist from Clinton Hill, waiting for gas at a Coastal station at Vanderbilt Avenue and Fulton Street in Fort Greene. "I have a gig tomorrow in Connecticut."

Some simply forced their way into line. Real estate agent Laura Durling, 24, said she and her coworkers would drive a convoy of company cars as close as possible to the front of the line, then simply nose their way in.

"I was so scared," she said, sitting behind the wheel of her personal car Friday. "I thought I was going to start a fight."

She declined to state the name of her company.

Goldy Augustin, who had planned to buy gas at Coastal before heading to his job at UPS, grew frustrated when he learned that his car, with a license plate that ended in an even number, wouldn't be allowed near the pumps.

"I don't know how I'm going to get to work today," he vented. "I think this is totally unfair. I guess I'll just turn around."

Police officers monitoring the scene and directing traffic offered little sympathy.

"Almost everybody's aware" of the odd-even system, one cop said. "It's just the slick ones trying to get by."

One of those "slick ones" was Jeremy Malman, 38, of Prospect Heights, who attempted to get gas at the Shell station on Classon Avenue and Atlantic Avenue in Clinton Hill, even though he has an even-numbered plate.

Malman, an executive director for a nonprofit organization called Worth Motorcycles that teaches at-risk youth to fix motorcycles, said his plan was just to play dumb.

"I'm going to be as humble, clueless and polite as I can possibly be," Malman said.

Forty minutes later, Malman successfully fueled up.

"You just gotta be a nice person," he said before driving away.

Sean Warren, 39, the manager of Atlantic Hand Wash one block away from the Coastal station, also helped direct the cars waiting for fuel, stopping motorists or urging them forward to keep the entrance to his business open.

"Anybody that's a New Yorker can understand we need to keep business going," he said as he walked the line of cars, occasionally motioning one to move up, or telling drivers with even-numbered plates that they'd have to wait until Saturday. "I have to have my customers get in and out."

He and others said they saw little, if any, change to the length of lines since rationing was implemented.

"I think it could be a better system," said Mark Grant, 37, an East New York barber waiting in line at the Mobil station to fill up his car. "But you got to get it how you can get it. That odd and even system definitely isn't it…. It should be better by now."

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