The city will begin rationing gasoline on Friday for the first time since the 1970s, in response to a persistent gas crisis that has shuttered hundreds of gas stations and forced desperate drivers to wait in line for hours to fill their tanks.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Thursday that the city was imposing a gas rationing system - restricting sales to cars with even-numbered license plates on even days, and odd-numbered on odd days. Plates ending with a letter will be treated as odd-numbered. People filling up gas cans will not be affected.
Nassau and Suffolk counties, on Long Island, also announced odd-even rationing on Thursday. New Jersey was the first to embrace rationing, last Saturday.
The rationing came after more than a week of federal and local efforts to resolve a gas crisis that continues to defy a quick or easy solution. Those efforts were set back by the nor'easter on Wednesday, which interrupted efforts to repair petroleum terminals and slowed barges carrying fuel from reaching their docks.
For many drivers, the long lines have become a constant, daily reminder - along with damaged homes, power disruptions and transit problems - of the devastation that Hurricane Sandy left behind and the mammoth recovery challenge the city and the region face.
"This is not a step that we take lightly," the mayor said of the rationing. "But given the shortages we will face over the next few weeks, and the growing frustrations of New Yorkers - we believe it is the right step."
Bloomberg said that only about 25 per cent of the city's roughly 800 gas stations were open at any given time and that the shortage could last another couple of weeks.
The mayor said the rationing rules would not apply to taxis and livery cabs, buses and emergency vehicles.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and other officials have warned repeatedly in the past week that panic buying and hoarding of gas by drivers who buy more than they need had only worsened the gas crisis in New York. The governor indicated that rationing in the city's northern suburbs was not now planned.
Government officials and industry experts have said that the hurricane not only cut off power to many gas stations but also caused widespread damage to refineries and a distribution network of ports and terminals that delivers gas to the pumps. So even as power has been restored in the city and elsewhere, gas has remained in short supply because distributors are unable to tap into their usual sources.
The website Gasbuddy.com, which has been tracking fuel availability in the New York region, reported on Thursday that 77 per cent of New York City gas stations had no fuel, and 68 per cent of Long Island stations were dry.
"The severity of the gasoline problem in the New York metro area is unprecedented," said Gregg Laskoski, a senior petroleum analyst for the website. "When there are infrastructure problems such as what occurred with Sandy, there are few alternatives available."
In New Jersey, municipal officials and gas station owners said the rationing system adopted by Governor Chris Christie cut lines in half almost immediately in some communities, curtailing demand on a system that will need at least several weeks to recover.
Industry executives said that as many as 20 regional terminals were still not operating and that work to repair them had been slowed by the snowstorm and could take weeks to complete. They also cited continuing disruptions in barge traffic to docks in Brooklyn and on Long Island for distribution of gas to stations around the area.
"Things had been getting better and then we were walloped by the second storm," said Jon Pepper, a Hess vice president. "And they are starting to get better again."
Pepper said Hess' refinery in Port Reading and four other New Jersey terminals lost power and were flooded by the hurricane. Two of the terminals, in Edgewater and Woodbridge, resumed operations Wednesday. Hess' Bayonne and Newark terminals remained closed to barges; Hess executives could not say when they would reopen.
In imposing rationing, Bloomberg noted that federal and local officials had already tried other steps, like expediting the opening of regional ports to barges and tankers carrying petroleum products. In addition, federal officials have sent millions of gallons of fuel to the region.
"But once again, clearly it is not enough," Bloomberg said. "Drivers are still facing long lines. Frustrations are only growing."
Police officials said they had already assigned officers to all open gas stations to maintain order and would not require additional officers to enforce the rationing system.
Judy Jones, a teacher who was waiting for gas at a BP station in Manhattan, said she supported the rationing.
"It'll make lines shorter, it'll make it easier, you won't have to wait in line for two hours," she said. "New Jersey has it. We should've had it sooner."
© 2012, The New York Times News Service