The Belleville Township Council Thursday voted to institute gas-rationing measures not widely seen in the United States since the 1970s.
Beginning Monday, Nov. 5, Belleville gas stations will only be allowed to distribute fuel on an “even-odd” basis. The ordinance approved by officials in an emergency session states that a motorist with a license plate whose last number is odd -- such as 1, 3 or 7, for example -- can only fill up at township gas stations on odd-numbered dates, such as the 5th, the 17th or the 23rd of the month.
The system works the same for even-numbered dates and license plates ending with even numbers, like 2 or 4. Zero -- "0" -- is considered an even number.
The system is similar to the one used in communities across the country following gas shortages caused by the the Iranian embargo in 1979.
For those walking up to gas stations seeking to fill up gas cans, similar rules are in effect, except the relevant number is the last number of the person’s address as it appears on a driver’s license or other government document.
Belleville Township Attorney Thomas Murphy said the council held a long debate before ultimately opting to dust off the disco-era solution. He also said that this week’s shortage differs from the one a generation ago in that more people are seeking fuel for generators and not just vehicles.
“There were disputes back then, but there weren’t as many people with generators,” he said. “I think that adds to the potential for turmoil.
Belleville distributors who violate the law may face penalties of up to 90 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.
The measures have been instituted due to widespread fuel shortages throughout New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy earlier this week. Because so many gas stations lost power, long lines -- in some communities stretching for a half-mile or more -- formed at stations that were still powered up and pumping. But even at some of those service stations that still had electricity, fuel supplies have not arrived from refineries, forcing those stations to shut down their pumps as well.
Managing the huge lines of desperate motorists has taxed police officers called upon to control traffic and to maintain order. There have already been scuffles at other gas lines in the area.
“We had to deploy police assets in significant numbers to keep calm,” Murphy said. “This takes off that extreme pressure to get gasoline.”
Belleville may be the first community hit by Sandy to attempt odd-even rationing. Murphy said he “was not aware of any other municipality” that was attempting the scheme. A spokeseman for the state Department of Law and Public Safety said late Thursday he had not heard of any other town attempting rationing but could not verfiy whether it was being tried elsewhere in the state.
The town's rationing will end when the state of emergency declared by Gov. Chris Christie is lifted, or possibly sooner if supplies are restored.