Big fears, long lines

September 24, 2008
By: Vicki Bell

Yesterday, I met a co-worker for lunch. You're thinking ho-hum, big deal. Actually it was a big deal for me, because my employer and almost all of my co-workers are located 624 miles from me. However, two of us telecommute long distances from our homes, which just happen to be in the same general geographic area.

Our lunch was postponed several times because of teleconferences with our on-site co-workers. It almost was postponed yet again because of a crisis the likes of which I personally haven't experienced since 1973. Although this crisis pales next to the financial sector's woes, it's a big issue in certain areas of the country.

We live in the metro Atlanta area, where, in some sectors, gas has been in short supply since Hurricane Ike. reported that an informal survey found only about one in 10 stations with pumps flowing in Cobb County. My husband can attest to that. He works in Cobb County. Yesterday, he left for work much earlier than usual hoping to find a station with gas as his fuel indicator dipped toward empty. He found one that had lines backed up so far they were impeding traffic. Rather than wait in such a line and risk running out of gas before reaching the pump, he drove on to work and left mid-morning to fill up. He found gas—but not the grade recommended by his car's manufacturer. He settled for a few gallons of the lower-grade gas, hoping it would tide him over until the proper grade became available.

What's going on? Why is this area experiencing a gas shortage that hasn't hit others?

Reportedly, the main pipeline that delivers Atlanta's gas is not running at capacity. And 45 north Georgia counties, including those in metro Atlanta, are required to use specialized fuel—a cleaner burning fuel—because of air quality problems. Apparently, this special need has compounded the shortage.

Further exacerbating the situation is the fear factor. Motorists fear they will not be able to find gas and are topping off their tanks at every opportunity. Despite pleas from government officials to fill up only when necessary, lines continue to grow, and stations continue to run out of gas. It isn't uncommon now to drive by stations and see no prices posted simply because no gas is available for purchase. Even the high-priced station closest to my home that I avoid like the plague has run out.

The motorists' fear is understandable. Atlanta's traffic is among the most congested in the country. Commutes are long, and those whose automobiles run out of gas could find themselves stranded on one of several Interstates that traverse the area. Not a good feeling.

Is relief in sight? I hope so. Georgia's governor and its U.S. Senators petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to waive the specialized gas restrictions for north Georgia. Late yesterday, the EPA granted the request, effective through Oct. 12. (More gas, worse air quality—less than desirable.)

Now motorists have to act—responsibly. Curtail your driving as much as feasible. Try to run errands in close proximity, back-to-back. Resist the urge to top off your tank, and fill up only when necessary. Take public transportation, or carpool when possible. Talk to your employer about a flexible work schedule (i.e., four 10-hour days; staggered starting and quitting times to lessen rush-hour traffic and conserve gas) or telecommuting.

If we followed these guidelines all the time, we wouldn't have to worry as much about a gas shortage, and we all might be able to breathe a little easier.

I'm glad I telecommute.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209