The president of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association said it would be a long haul to normalcy, but the hunt for fuel seemed to ease slightly Sunday as motorists found shorter lines and waiting times at the pump.
The change, however, offered little comfort to motorists whose new wait time just to fill up their tanks has soared to more than 90 minutes on average since superstorm Sandy hit last week.
Michael Jones, of Deer Park, was at the end of a line at a West Babylon BP station Sunday, but predicted that wait would be easier than the 26 hours he spent from Friday to Saturday at a Hess station in Deer Park waiting for a gas truck that never arrived.
"We camped out; we spent the night there," he said. "This, we can do."
Access to gasoline is getting easier, said Michael Watt, executive director of the retailers association, but the lines of motorists continued to snake down roadways and through neighborhoods. As the supply increases and residents and gas stations regain electricity, however, the scramble for fuel should relax, Watt said.
In Huntington, motorists breathed a sigh of relief when they noticed a short line at a BP station near Walt Whitman Road -- the average wait was 55 minutes. Until Sunday, many motorists waited three hours or more.
"We know what's in the ground is going quickly. But as they all come on, that's just that much more product in the system," Watt said. "I think, too, what will help in a bizarre way is if people's homes start getting electricity; at least they'll feel they have a place they can stay" so they won't feel the need to get in their cars and go out as often.
And as Long Islanders regain power, they won't be waiting to fill up gas cans to run generators, Watt added.
Kevin Beyer, the association's president, said while the situation is slowly improving, it would be helped even more if local fuel terminals eased restrictions and consumers relaxed.
"People need to be calm -- if you have a half a tank, you don't need to be running to the gas station," he said.
Beyer noted that storm damage the Inwood fuel terminal sustained during the storm also would hinder access to gas for some time.
"It's still going to be a long haul; it's going to be some time before it's all back to normal," he said. Beyer, who owns Performance Fuels in Smithtown, said his average wait is 45 minutes -- short compared to many on Long Island.
Gene Spelman, who owns a Gulf station in New Hyde Park, said since electricity to his business was restored Thursday, he's seen waiting times drop from three hours to 1 1/2 hours. "I pumped 8,000 gallons in 10 hours Thursday," Spelman said.
He said he expects "this thing to be normal [by] Wednesday or Thursday at the latest."
In a news conference Sunday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo cited issues with the fuel delivery and distribution system, but said the situation is getting better. He urged patience and understanding to New Yorkers frustrated with long lines at stations that often run out of gas before drivers can fill up.
"Now is not the time to be hoarding fuel," Cuomo said. "That's increasing the demand now."
Cuomo's office and representatives from the federal Department of Defense and the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) did not return telephone calls Sunday seeking comment on what happened to the truck, when other fuel shipments, if any, were scheduled to come to Long Island, where they would be delivered and who would get access.
The Department of Defense announced Friday it would be distributing more than 250,000 gallons of fuel to New York and New Jersey through Sunday to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency's response efforts after Sandy, but gave no specifics.