New York imposes gas rationing. Here's how it works.

New York's new gas rationing system goes into effect with police on hand to ensure it's enforced. Cars with license plates ending in an odd number will be able to fill up Friday. Even-number license plates can fill up Saturday.

Mike Segar/Reuters/File
Cars wait in long lines at a Sunoco gas station on the Garden State Parkway in Montvale, N.J., last week. To ease the lines, New Jersey and now New York City and counties in Long Island have instituted odd-even gas rationing.

Gas-rationing in the storm-ravaged greater New York area is spreading. Spurred by the success of New Jersey's gas rationing plan, New York City and two Long Island counties will impose odd-even gas rationing beginning Friday morning.

Since Friday, Nov. 9, is an odd day,  only cars with license plates ending in an odd number or a letter or other character will be able to buy gas. On Saturday, only cars with license plates that end with even numbers or zero will be able to fill up. And so on.

Will it work? The odd-even system appears to have reduced the long lines in neighboring New Jersey following the widespread power outages caused by hurricane Sandy last week. Typical two-hour waits at stations immediately after the storm went down to about 45 minutes after New Jersey instituted a similar odd-even rationing plan, according to news reports.

New York City's new rationing rule "is designed to let everybody have a fair chance, so the lines aren't too oppressive and that we can get through this," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a press conference Thursday.

New York City earlier this week had deployed police to gasoline stations that were open. Now, they'll be on hand to make sure no one cheats. Violators of the odd-even system can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor.

Shortages may last up to another two weeks, the mayor added. Only 25 percent of the city's gas stations are open.

Recovery from the storm was set back temporarily by new power outages caused Wednesday night by the wintry northeaster that hit the same area as Sandy the week before. Among the facilities that lost power was an oil terminal for the Buckeye Pipeline, responsible for bringing some 4.5 million gallons of gas a day into the greater New York area. The pipeline didn't get back its power until Thursday morning.

There's just one caveat: The last time the United States had widespread gas rationing, in 1979, it made a tense situation worse, argues John Sterman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor in his 2000 textbook, "Business Dynamics." Rationing simply reinforced the panicked behavior of drivers, causing more motorists to line up and top off their tanks.

Perhaps the residents of greater New York will prove wiser.

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