Japan's Gasoline Rationing Experience

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Aaron Schachter: I am Aaron Schachter; this is The World. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is urging residents to be patient as they get used to the city's new odd-even gasoline rationing plan. Gas rationing is also in effect on Long Island and in New Jersey where fuel is still in short supply in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. There were similar shortages in Japan after last year�s devastating earthquake and tsunami. ABC News reporter Akiko Fujita, in Tokyo, covered that disaster.

Akiko Fujita: What we experienced here in Japan is very similar to what we are seeing over on the East Coast there on the U.S. I remember just days after the earthquake we immediately tried to go from Tokyo up north to the most devastated areas and what we saw everywhere was just line after line after line coming out of gas stations. The priority was given to rescue crews who obviously had to go out and clean up the debris, search for bodies. That's where all the gas went initially. And so, people who were trying to get food and trying to evacuate, for example near the Fukushima nuclear plant, they had to line up for hours and hours just to get five gallons of gas even.

Schachter: And were they trying to run generators or were they trying to get gas for their cars to get out?

Fujita: They did run generators, but when you're talking about hundreds of thousands of people who were displaced trying to get to shelters, trying to get food, this was really a situation. At least for me, we would line up for an hour and get to the front of the line only to find out that they had run out of gas. So you would line up again at another gas station, essentially just begging anybody to give us gas so we can just keep going.

Schachter: We have seen people almost come to blows waiting for gas in New York. Did you see anything like that in Japan in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami?

Fujita: Well, one of the things that really struck me is just how patient the Japanese were during really what was the worst natural disaster in Japan's history. I remember being outside a shelter at midnight with lines stretched around the block where people were just waiting for water, but I was struck by how quietly they were waiting. People were not complaining. They were just standing there because they knew that everybody else was in the same boat. Outside the gas stations, people would line up as early as midnight hoping that they could get some gas in the morning, but I did not hear of any price gouging or of breaking up initially. And so, I would say that, in general, Japanese were very calm and patient about it, knowing that hundreds of thousands of people were in the same boat.

Schachter: You noticed that Japan came up with some kind of system for rationing the gas that might be instructive for people in New York. I mean, they're doing the license plate, the odd-even thing. Is that more or less what happened in Japan?

Fujita: Well, I know that initially they would allow people to get gas but only a specific amount — anywhere from 2 to 5 gallons. And so, people would actually line up knowing that they would only get a small amount but that would at least help them get to the grocery store or go to the shelter to find out if their loved ones were there. So, that was what was initially put in place after all the emergency workers and everybody else were taken care of.

Schachter: Akiko Fujita is a reporter for ABC News. She joined us from Tokyo.