New York City began rationing petrol yesterday for the first time since the 1970s, in response to a persistent fuel crisis that has shuttered hundreds of fuel stations and forced desperate drivers to wait hours in line to fill their tanks.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city was imposing a rationing system - restricting sales to cars with even-numbered licence plates on even days, and odd-numbered on odd days. Plates ending with a letter will be treated as odd-numbered.
Nassau and Suffolk counties, on Long Island, also announced odd-even fuel rationing. New Jersey did the same last Saturday.
The rationing came after more than a week of federal and local efforts to resolve a fuel crisis that continues to defy a quick or easy solution. Those efforts were set back by Wednesday's storm, 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 wrecked homes, power disruptions and transit problems - of the devastation Hurricane Sandy left behind and the mammoth recovery challenge the city and 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 only 25 per cent of the city's 800 petrol stations were open at any given time and that the shortage could last a further two weeks.
The mayor said the rationing rules would not apply to taxi cabs, buses and emergency vehicles.
The website Gasbuddy.com which has been tracking fuel availability in the New York region, said on Thursday that 77 per cent of New York City's petrol stations had no fuel, and 68 per cent of the Long Island stations were dry.
"The severity of the fuel problem in the New York metro area is unprecedented," said Gregg Laskoski, an analyst for the website. "When there are infrastructure problems such as what occurred with Sandy, there are few alternatives available."
In New Jersey, officials and fuel 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 would need at least several weeks to recover.
Industry executives said that as many as 20 regional terminals were still not operating, and work to repair them had been slowed by Wednesday's snowstorm and could take weeks to complete.