What's the Point of Even/Odd Gas Rationing?

I.e. the idea, currently instituted in parts of NJ, that only people with even/odd license plates can buy gas on even/odd days of the month. (I believe this was also done during the oil crisis of the late 70s.)

I don’t see what this accomplishes, other than to inconvenience people.

I suppose if there were very long lines on some days and very short lines on other days, this would tend to even things out a bit. But that doesn’t seem to be the issue, at least at this time.

It guarantees that not everyone is going to show up at the same time.

See my third paragraph. (Lengths of the gas lines has been fairly stable, at least in my part of NJ. Gotten much shorter of late, and it may be over, but in any event for the past week there ahve not been huge fluctuations from day to day.)

Say 1000 people want gas in one day and the gas stations can only handle 600. By doing odd and even you have 500 a day (though probably slightly more, as people top-off).

Not so.

The 500 who wanted gas yesterdy but were prevented from buying it due to wrong-numbered plates will all show up the next day, in addition to the ones who would naturally have been there on that day. So you’re back where you started.

On another thread, people have claimed that some people were filling up cars that were only half empty, due to panic. If that’s the case, then possibly the rationing scheme might have been something of a deterrent on that type of behaviour. (I’m not even sure of that.)

Yes, the purpose is to prevent panic buying.

I’m failing to see your logic here. The system basically cuts in half the number of people allowed to queue up for gas each day. Since most folks don’t need gas every day it has the effect of reducing the size of the queues for gas when demand is relatively steady.

The “ones who would naturally have been there on that day” is pretty constant. The amount of gas dispensed (for the most part) doesn’t change.

I don’t follow your logic. It seems to me RealityChuck has it exactly right.

Suppose there are 1,000 people, 500 with odd and 500 with even numbered plates, and suppose the crisis lasts 14 days. In the worst case scenario, every single odd numbered day, all 500 of the people with odd-numbered plates go to get gas, and similarly for the even numbered days. If total servicing capacity is slightly more than 500 - like the 600 he cited - then there will never be any stupidly long lines at the gas stations, since the daily volume of 500 is within capacity.

In the end that’s what this is about: not about getting more gas to people (they’re still going to get the same amount per person), but about reducing the stress and time wasted in people WAITING to get their gas. You say that line length “was stable” in your part of NJ, but by all accounts probably stable with a very high wait time.

The goal here is to bring wait times down while not reducing anybody’s available quantity of fuel. You still get your 10-20 gallons or whatever it is, just come on an odd/even day instead of whenever you feel like it, in exchange for which instead of waiting a “stable” 3-4 hours you will only wait 1-2 hours at worst. I’d make that trade every day of the week.

It also helps in scaling to the actual supply of fuel on hand. The worst thing of all is when people wait hours and hours only for the gas to run out. For me that would be like a shooting spree level of frustrated rage, were I the spreeing sort. (Which I’m not.)

Fortunately this problem should dissipate over the next few days as the supply resumes, power for pumping is restored and the feeling of panic ebbs. So I don’t think this scheme will be enforced for very long.

You seem to have the logic backwards. If people needed gas every day, then it would have the impact of reducing lines (& also reducing the amount of gas people can get). If people don’t need gas every day, then it would have no impact.

Let’s assume for example that people need gas, on average, every other day (which is a pretty generous assumption, considering that most vehicles get about 350 miles per tank). Suppose there are 2,000 people living in a general area. On average, 1,000 of these people will be getting gas each day.

Now suppose you institute the even/odd rationing scheme. You will still have 1,000 people lining up for gas each day. The only thing that will change is that all 1,000 will be either even or odd on a given day. People are not going to buy less gas because you’ve instituted the scheme. They will just buy it on different day, but the overall number of people buying gas will remain the same, and the average number of people buying it per day - which is simply the overall number divided by the constant number of days - will also remain the same.

What I meant about “ones who would naturally have been there on that day” is that if there are 1,000 people buying gas on an average day, 500 of these will typically be odd-plated, and 500 even-plated, absent rationing. Now you institute rationing. If today is an even day, then you’ll have the 500 even-plated people who would have bought today absent any rationing, plus another 500 people who would have bought yesterday (or tomorrow) but were pushed into buying today by the rationing regulations. So you’re back to where you started.

As above, I’m not sure it works for that. The only way it makes sense is if people are buying gas more than once in two days (per vehicle).

Again, this assumes that - absent rationing - people would buy gas more than once in two days. As above, given the range of vehicles these days, this seems highly unlikely.

I suspect that a lot of people have been buying gas more than once every 2 days. Either because they are panic-buyers or because they use a lot of gas for work. Odd/even rationing will force these people to cool it.

The issue, in this case, isn’t that people need gas every day…it’s that, more than usual, many of them need gas (or believe that they need gas) now.

When people believe that the supply is short, they’re going to go out and make sure they get gas today, even if they don’t strictly need it today, because they’re going to need it sooner or later, and they become afraid that, if they wait until tomorrow (when they really need it), there might not be any gas at all.

Well if it’s true that people were buying more than once every other day (per vehicle) then I agree.

It would interesting to see if the scheme actually works. (My own county is not one of the ones subject to this regulation and the situation has gotten a lot better over the past few days on its own.)

I see what you mean. You’re objecting that this is only a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist if people only got gas that they needed, and you don’t believe that the crunch is driven by people getting gas they don’t actually need (i.e., filling up while still 1/2 or 3/4 full), even though that the published report from the field from people manning the pumps is that that had been occuring quite a bit. (Sorry no cite handy, but I can probably dig it up from the NY Daily News or NY Times.)

If you filled up your car before the storm and drive little enough that that one full tank should see you through to the end of this week, and are rational and self-controlled enough to assume this supply problem will work itself out before you run empty and doing the minimal amount of driving necessary to make that happen… Then excellent, you’re not part of the problem. But it’s a real problem nonetheless.

The problem I think you’re missing is the narrowing of the number of supply points. You’re assuming everyone who needs gas can get to a known location to get that gas, like their usual corner. But with power out in so much of the state, and many roads still difficult to navigate, part of the panic is fueled by the experience of driving around using fuel while looking for fuel - only to find a massive crowd around one of the few operating stations.

There may even be enough gas for everybody’s “actual” needs right now - what is lacking is enough working pumps that people can get to in order to buy it. Thus very long lines and stations running out of fuel. Which in turn feeds hysteria that if you don’t get gas TODAY, at THIS STATION that you know for sure currently has gas, God only knows when you’ll have the chance again so go now, Now, NOW!!

Think of it this way: if there had been no hurricane, but 50% of the gas stations in NJ randomly shut down leaving the other 50% to service the entire state, with no other change in driving patterns (i.e., getting gas only when down to 1/4 of a tank), the lines for gas would get twice as long. Right?

Now because the reservoirs for those 50% of operating gas stations didn’t suddenly double in size, many those stations would probably run out of gas at some point, since they’re serving twice the number of customers. Right?

Now picture what happens when people wait twice as long as usual and hear that stations are also running out of gas. RUNNING OUT OF GAS! Now people are running out to get gas with 1/2 a tank because nobody wants to risk running to empty, they’d be completely stranded.

Which effectively doubles the demand, since instead of filling up at 1/4 of a tank people are going out to get filled at 1/2 a tank.

Which makes the likelihood of those 50% of operating stations going dry even higher. Which further raises the panic level.

Now realize that for the first few days after the hurricane, there could have actually been something like 25-30% of gas stations operating in northern NJ, much less than 50%. (A total guesstimate as Governor Christie admitted the state is only now realizing the importance of having a list of gas stations in NJ.)

I also agree with the poster who pointed out that a lot of people wait in line for hours and get no gas at all because the station runs out of gas. Odd/even rationing ought to cut down on futile waiting.

I agree – there’s probably a strong emotional component feeding the long lines.

Maybe the whole point is psychological. It gives a clear “hey this is an important resource, supplies may be limited, we should conserve it as much as possible” message, whether or not the actual rationing system makes sense.

I wager the psychological impact of having rationing reduces consumption, even if the rationing system (logically) does nothing to reduce consumption.

Not sure about that. There are a lot of people who waited for nothing because they were unaware of the rules.

Just based on simple observation, it seems that your typical gas pump is in use much less than 50% of the time. So if everyone kept their cool, lines would not be twice as long since most of the time there is not a line.

But anyway, I agree with the idea that there is a lot of panic buying. Of the 3 people I know who waited in line for gas, 2 had 3/4 of a tank and 1 had half a tank. All of them had plenty of gas to make it through the end of this week.

The other day at 5:00 am, I saw a couple cars racing down one of the streets in my town to get to one of the gas stations with a steady supply. I was reminded of Mad Max.

What about people with vanity plates?


I usually experience a line of some sort when gassing up in Jersey, but I’m coming from NY so maybe I only tend to visit for high out-of-town volume reasons, or traveling high volume corridors rather than lower volume residential areas.

Still, the math holds true - the lines would (at least) double if half the pumps dropped out of the equation. So if pumps were empty 50% of the time then it could now mean that pumps were 100% used.

The flaw with that logic is that demand is not evenly distributed either (over the day). I’d imagine that most people get gas on the way to work, or on the way home from work. So a station that sees 50% occupancy over a day probably has long periods of very low occupancy mixed in with periods of high demand with lines of varying length.

Then there’s the whole “you have to have an attendant pump your gas” thing in Jersey that I’ve always felt only slows things down at high volume times, but that’s another story.