NEW YORK - Fuel shortages and distribution delays that led to gasoline hoarding have prompted New York City and Long Island to put into place an even-odd gas rationing plan to begin Friday at 6 a.m. in New York City and at 5 a.m. on Long Island.
The temporary plan means that gasoline will be available to drivers with license plate numbers ending in an odd number or a letter on odd-number dates beginning Nov. 9, Friday. Saturday, Nov. 10, will begin even-number dates for drivers with plate numbers ending in an even number or zero.
Police will be at gas stations to enforce the new system.
"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."
City and county officials, however, say something had to be done about the problem that is worsening for gas stations and for people stranded at home because of too little gas.
"This is designed to let everybody have a fair chance, so the lines aren't too oppressive and that we can get through this," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Commercial vehicles, taxis and limousine fleets or emergency vehicles are exempt. People carrying portable gas cans are also exempt. Vanity plates that don't have numbers are considered odd-numbered plates. Out-of-state drivers are also subject to the system.
"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.
Bloomberg said the system has worked well in New Jersey where lines went from a two-hour wait to 45 minutes.
"The gasoline shortages ... remain a real problem for drivers in our region," Bloomberg said, adding that only a quarter of New York City stations are open. "We have to do something. This is practical and enforceable and a lot better than doing nothing."
The mayor said he expects shortages to continue for possibly another couple of weeks.
"It's more pressure on us," said gas station owner Ash Gaied. "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."
The system was designed to be regional to avoid a rush across municipal lines for gas.
"This temporary fuel policy will ease the challenges residents of the bi-county region are experiencing in the aftermath of the storm," Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone said. "Our citizens travel between Nassau and Suffolk without regard to county borders and it only makes sense that we adopt a regional solution."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo had been meeting with the mayor and Suffolk and Nassau counties executives to coordinate several new responses to the continue recovery from Superstorm Sandy that hit Oct. 29.
"It's important that we stay coordinated because we don't want one county's plan impacting on another county," Cuomo said earlier Thursday. "I'm not going to allow any one of them to do something that compromises a neighborhood because we're all neighbors."
Gas distribution among motorists continued to be a problem Thursday, partly because of hoarding. Also, power outages on Long Island partly from Thursday's nor'easter left some gas stations with gasoline in their tanks, but no power to activate pumps.
"The system is coming together slowly," Cuomo said at a press conference, adding that he understands the panic for gas, evidenced by the long lines in New York City.
Rockland, Orange and Westchester counties decided not to adopt the system at this time.
"We have to do something, and this is something that is practical and enforceable and understandable, and doing something is a lot better than doing nothing," Bloomberg said.