Governor Christie's revival of the odd-even license-plate system
for shrinking gas-station lines isn't the only big idea designed to
bring order to our lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
A Middlesex County legislator is drafting a bill to keep more gas stations open during the next big storm. A Wyckoff councilman found a spur-of-the-moment way to shorten gas-line waits for constituents. And with a little foresight, the owner of a gas-and-electricity- powered Chevy Volt managed to avoid long lines at the pump even though the charging station at his Teaneck home lost its traditional power source.
You might not like any of their ideas, but at least Barbara Buono, Kevin Rooney and George Friedman took some initiative.
State Senator Buono wants legislation to give gas stations incentives to install gas generators at their electric pumps so they can stay open when another Sandy kills power in the future.
"With more big storms hitting New Jersey than ever, we need to take the same emergency precautions as Florida," Buono explained.
The Garden State hasn't yet been victimized as much as the hurricane-prone Sunshine State, which mandates generators. But Buono's idea sounded great last week while I was waiting for gas in a 250-car line in Fort Lee. My Honda passed three stations that either had run out of gas or had plenty of fuel but no electricity to pump it. Last Friday, only 25 percent of North Jersey stations were open.
"I don't like mandates," Buono, a Democrat, said on the phone as I inched along. "But legislation could allow the state to negotiate a bulk purchasing price for retail stations, and the Economic Development Authority could provide low-interest loans to reduce purchase costs."
The president of the gas retailers group that represents most of New Jersey's 2,300 stations didn't exactly leap to endorse this big idea.
"Fix the supply chain first," said Sal Risalvato. "Why spend $8,000 for a generator if [gas distribution centers] can't get supplies to our stations?"
Risalvato has a point, but at least one big chain -- Hess -- has invested in generators for half its stations. If big storms keep cutting heavily into the bottom line of small retailers, big chains with big generators will likely blow more of the little guys out of business.
About 500 Wyckoff residents were spared long waits when the local Getty station began serving only drivers with licenses showing they lived in the township.
The station is run by Councilman Rooney, a Republican who justified the practice at a town meeting this way:
"My responsibility is to my residents. "If I have to take flack for that, then so be it."
Wyckoff residents praised him, but out-of-town readers who were kicked off the line were appalled.
"Elitist!" said Valerie Barber of Ringwood.
"Disgusting!" Midland Park's Ed Bell told my colleague, Rebecca Greene of The Suburban News.
Local cops weren't outraged. They ordered people off the line after checking their licenses.
Bergen County Police Chief Brian Higgins, whose department oversees the county's Consumer Affairs Division, said preference isn't listed in executive orders or state consumer laws covering gas sales. "We got no formal complaints about this," Higgins said.
Still, it's surprising that Eileen Avia, Rooney's Democratic opponent in Tuesday's election, didn't claim an ethics violation.
The Volt Advantage
Even though his Teaneck home lost electric power, George Friedman managed to take advantage of his Chevy Volt's electric motor by plugging it into his home charging station.
The secret: An $8,000 natural gas generator that powers his entire house.
"I filled the Volt's tank before the storm, which gave me 300 reserve miles once the charge ran out," he said. "Only it never ran out, because I charged it from my generator every night, so it still has 300 miles in reserve."
Once he installed the generator after the October 2011 storm, George claims he didn't visit a gas station until Labor Day.
A Parting Tip
Instead of waiting in a lengthy Fort Lee gas line, I should have visited one of the two Sunoco stations on the Palisades Interstate Parkway, which attracted only short lines during the crisis. The PIP generally caters to drivers who stick to the highway. By staying in Fort Lee, I was competing for gas with too many residents and shoppers.
Maybe next time.
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