The Psychology Of Shortages

Felix Salmon addresses it:

There’s something self-fulfilling about gas shortages: they’re the crisis equivalent of a bank run. So long as everybody just goes about their day in a normal manner, refilling their tank only when they get low, everything goes smoothly. But when people start thinking that there might not be enough to go around, everybody panics and rushes to the stations: while shortages in New Jersey have real Sandy-related causes, shortages in places like Westchester are essentially the product of self-fulfilling fears.

Anthony Randazzo talked to a taxi driver about the shortage:

A cabbie told me today that he probably had three more rides left after dropping me off before he’d have to park his car and wait for service to return: "The lines are too long to wait for the gas. There are a hundred cars at every station with fuel left. And many of those people will just fill up their tanks and go home and not use the gas!"

He was clearly upset about the shortage because it meant he was going to lose work hours, which would lower his take home pay, and it was totally unnecessary because the gas he needed was going to sit idling in cars in parking garages along the Upper East Side. This was not a 1 percenter looking to fill his Maserati. Here was a lower- or middle-class guy needing to feed his family hurt because of the law preventing price gouging. If the price rose high enough, perhaps many of those filling up just to make sure they had it–because many people in the aftermath of a disaster gasoline rushes look like bank runs–then the people who really need the gas would consume the majority of it.

But the run on gasoline isn't just for cars:

[Natasha Lizunova] had waited two hours earlier in the morning and now wanted another fill-up. "We don’t know when the power is coming back, so we need to fill up our generators," she said.

And that becomes more of a pressing problem with the expected drop in temperatures:

The citywide death toll from the superstorm had reached 42 fatalities by Saturday and could rise with the cold weather, Bloomberg said. The city has not received any reports of hypothermia-related hospitalizations, but as the temperatures dip into the 30s over the next days, the mayor warned of grave health risks.

The city has opened heating centers in areas that still don’t have power and will be distributing 25,000 free blankets to people who have chosen to remain in their homes. There is also free fuel for generators in some locations, Bloomberg said. Residents can board buses to heating centers at five locations: two on Staten Island, two on the Rockaways section of Queens and one in Brooklyn’s Coney Island neighborhood.

An update on the fuel shortage: "New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday that it will be a "couple of days" before the regional gas shortage is fully resolved."