Men fill gas cans at a Shell gasoline station on 1st Avenue and E. 96th Street on Friday in New York. / Stan Honda, AFP/Getty Images
NEW YORK - On Manhattan's West Side on Friday, one line for gas started at 10th Avenue and W. 41st Street, just over three blocks south of a bustling Hess filling station.
The wait on this first day of an odd-even license plate rationing plan for New York City and Long Island was roughly 20 minutes. For Avik Amany, a car service driver from Brooklyn, that was just fine.
"So far, it's working," Amany said of the new restrictions as he pumped gas for his black SUV just before noon. "The line was about two hours here yesterday. It was crazy. This is much better."
New York City police officers established a gas waiting line along 10th Avenue. Duk Ho Choi, a yellow cab driver from Woodside, Queens, said the line was orderly and moved relatively quickly.
"The last few days it was very hard" to gas up and keep working, Choi said. "Now it's good."
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the chief executives of Long Island's Nassau and Suffolk Counties ordered the rationing plan - the first of its kind since fuel shortages during the 1970s - amid long lines and short supply after Superstorm Sandy battered the region.
Under the plan, motorists whose vehicle license plates end in an even number may buy gas only on even-numbered days, and those whose plates end in an odd number may fuel up just on odd-numbered days.
Commercial and emergency vehicles, buses, taxis, paratransit vehicles and vehicles with medical doctor license plates are exempt from the restrictions, as are people filling gas containers.
City and Long Island officials instituted the plan after a similar system in New Jersey proved successful after it began last weekend.
Although many motorists gave the experience an initial thumbs up Friday, finding an open station remained a problem.
A GasBuddy.com online fuel shortage tracker launched after Sandy struck showed just 12 service stations open in Manhattan early Friday afternoon --days after electrical power was restored to most of the borough.
Additionally, seven of 57 petroleum terminals that were in Sandy's path remained closed Friday, according to a U.S. Department of Energy report. All were located in either New Jersey or New York, a contributing factor in the reduced levels of gas actually reaching service stations.
New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that state and local officials and the private sector must redesign gas supply and other essential services to withstand what he said was the reality of a permanent increase in dangerous storms.
"I think that's a challenge for us, all across the board," said Cuomo. "If you want to paralyze a region, as we learned, just stop the fuel delivery for two days."
As far as Amany was concerned, the only immediate drawback Friday was on the Hess sign: $4.03.9 per gallon for regular unleaded, and $4.35 for premium.
"It's working today, but let's wait a few days and see what happens," he said.
Michael Green, a spokesman for the AAA auto club's national office, said checks of gas stations showed lines were shorter around New York City and Long Island after the rationing plan took effect.
"That said, the long-term situation probably won't change until the gas distribution system is restored to normal," Green said.
He said AAA had heard many reports of black market gas being offered for sale at sky-high prices.
"There are online ads on Craigslist, and we've heard about people knocking on the windows of cars waiting in (service station) lines and offering to sell them gas," Green said.
People who have made it to the pump are filling up gas cans, then posting those items in the For Sale area of Craigslist.com. Friday afternoon, the online classified ads included a 5-gallon can for $75 and a 5-gallon can for $90 -- putting the price at $15 a gallon and $18 a gallon.
A user who was selling a single gallon of gas for $5 touted it as "good gas," saying "you can inspect it."
Another ad said this: "I have one gallon of gas in a container. 6 dollars and its yours. Or 10 dollars and I will deliver it to you. Good Gas!! Pumped Recently."
Most sellers positioned their ads to say they were selling the cans - and the gas just came along with the price.
Some who needed gas went on Craigslist.
"I will pay 50.00 for a 5 gallon can of regular gas if you bring it to my house in Richmond Hill, Queens," said one user.
New York and New Jersey officials have said they will go after those who excessively increase the cost of essential goods such as gas.
Friday, seven gas stations and one hotel in New Jersey were hit with lawsuits from the government that accused them of illegally hiking up prices during the Hurricane Sandy state of emergency.
One gas station was accused of excessively charging $5.50 per gallon for regular gasoline. That was an increase of $2.05 per gallon - or 59% - above its pre-Sandy prices, according to a statement put out by the New Jersey governor's office, the attorney general and the department of consumer affairs.
"New Jersey has a tough price-gouging law to ensure that profiteers will not take unfair advantage of people at their most vulnerable - those who have been displaced from their homes, have limited resources and are seeking fuel, shelter and the basic necessities of life," Gov. Christie said in the statement. "Businesses operating in New Jersey will obey our laws - or face significant penalties."
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he would investigate post-Hurricane Sandy price gouging after receiving hundreds of consumer complaints. In a statement, his office said general business law prohibits such increases in costs of essential items such as food, water, gas, generators, batteries and flashlights, and services such as transportation, during natural disasters or other events that disrupt the market.
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Read the original story: Day 1 of N.Y. gas rationing goes smoothly