NEW YORK – With long gas lines persisting more than a week after Superstorm Sandy, New York imposed a gasoline rationing plan Thursday that lets motorists fill up every other day.
Police will be at gas stations Friday morning to enforce the new system in New York City and on Long Island. Gas will be available to drivers with license-plate numbers ending in an odd number or a letter on Friday. On Saturday, drivers with license plates that end in even numbers of zero can fuel up.
"It'll be bad. How am I going to get my jobs done?" said Parris Hancock, a driver for a Manhattan catering company who makes deliveries from morning to night. "I'll have to get up at 4 a.m. and just keep going back for gas and waiting in long lines."
Officials said something had to be done to ease the long waits for fuel, which they say has caused panic-buying and hoarding.
"This is designed to let everybody have a fair chance, so the lines aren't too oppressive and that we can get through this," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg said the system worked well in New Jersey, where lines went from a two-hour wait to 45 minutes after Gov. Chris Christie announced a similar rationing plan.
"We have to do something," he said. "This is practical and enforceable and a lot better than doing nothing."
Bloomberg said only a quarter of the city's gas stations were open. Some were closed because they were out of power, others because they can't get fuel from terminals and storage tanks that can't unload their cargoes. One station owner in Queens' Bayside section said the last time he had gas was three days ago.
"Whatever they can do to improve the situation, I'm in favor of," said yellow-cab driver Clee Walsh, as he drove into a BP station on West 36th Street only to discover that it had no gas.
The rationing plan takes effect at 5 a.m. Friday on Long Island, where hundreds of thousands of customers remain without power; and at 6 a.m. in New York City.
Buses, taxes and limousines, commercial vehicles and emergency vehicles are exempt from the plan, as are people carrying portable gas cans. Vanity plates that don't have numbers are considered odd-numbered plates. Out-of-state drivers are also subject to the system.
The mayor said the shortages could last another couple of weeks, worrying owners like Ash Gaied.
"It's more pressure on us," Gaied said. "They yell. They curse. You wouldn't believe it."
Gaied said one gas delivery lasts the station about seven hours, then he has to wait up to a full day for another one. He was answering a steady stream of phone calls at dusk Thursday from people running on empty.
"Yes, sir, we have gas," he told one caller. "No, I don't know how long the wait is."
Officials said the rationing would be across the region, including Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island, to avoid a rush across municipal lines for gas.
"It's important that we stay coordinated because we don't want one county's plan impacting on another county," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. "I'm not going to allow any one of them to do something that compromises a neighborhood because we're all neighbors."
New power outages on Long Island caused by this week's nor'easter again left stations with gasoline in their tanks unable to activate pumps. Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone said the rationing "will ease the challenges residents of the bi-county region are experiencing" after the storm.
Cuomo said he understands the panic, seen in lines blocks long for gas across New York City.
"The system is coming together slowly," he said.