Not long after Hurricane Sandy ravished parts of the East Coast, it was clear that the disrupted gasoline supply chain and the retailing of it would be a main obstacle to recovering from the super storm.
In the days after Sandy hit on Oct. 29, reports came out that people waiting in miles-long lines at gas stations, sometimes only to get to the front to find out the fuel had run out.
The Fuel Merchants of New Jersey used social media, including an online forum and a FaceBook page, to try to collect and disseminate information.
An even-odd gas rationing system was put into place in parts of New Jersey and New York in order to try to control the growing demand as stations struggled to either obtain fuel or power to pump it or both.
However, the supply chain seems to be gradually returning to normal, with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ending the gas rationing in his state on Nov. 13. New York continues to impose the system.
“The trend seems to be positive, but the improvement is slow,” said New York Association of Convenience Stores President Jim Calvin. “But we’re not out of the woods yet, by far.”
At the time of the interview on Nov. 13, he said it’s hard to tell from one day to the next if the fuel supply situation is getting better or not. “One day it seems to be improving, the next day it’s stalled,” Calvin said.
In addition to the problem of actually getting and pumping gasoline, retailers also had to be acutely aware of their pricing. Even before the storm made landfall, on Oct. 26, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency, which automatically activated New York State’s anti-price gouging law.
Calvin said he’s seen the consumer affairs departments in the state and counties government “breathing down the necks of retailers,” warning them not to charge excessive prices for vital consumer commodities, which motor fuel is considered.
“Number one, it’s a distraction,” he said. “Number two, it’s a reminder that the anti-gouging law is in effect.”
However, there have been real logistical issues that the storm has created, which have legitimately raised the cost of some marketers’ bottom line.
“We have seen increases in pump prices downstate that are directly related to increases in hauling costs,” Calvin said. Marketers have had to travel longer distances to get the fuel, as facilities closer have been without power or fuel or both.
Trucks have had to go to places as far as Philadelphia and Massachusetts to get the fuel, and that additional travel distance has added considerable costs to the wholesale price, as much as 15 cents a gallon or more. That had to be passed to consumers, which then caused “some to shout the ‘G’ word,” he said.
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has opened an investigation and is currently inviting complaints.
“I would like to think everyone is more concerned with getting the fuel and not nit-picking the price,” Calvin said.
Some have speculated that the anti-price gouging laws have contributed to the need for gas rationing as a way to control demand. Calvin said it’s hard to tell because there are so many variables.
“The vast majority of retailers acted with restraint and concern for their neighbors, those who are suffering the effects of the storm, while making sure that they come out whole from this, too.”