About 300 District of Columbia government cars and trucks were out of commission yesterday afternoon when some city gasoline pumps ran dry and the supplier refused to refill them until the city paid an overdue bill of $144,000.

The D.C. Department of Transportation, which runs a city-owned gasoline station at Florida and New York avenues NE, responded that the check was in the mail. But the supplier, Roarda Inc. of Virginia, wanted some proof -- like the number of the check -- before it would replenish the dwindling gas supply. The firm never got it, and the department didn't get any gasoline.

James Spellman, assistant director of the transportation department's maintenance division, which operates the gasoline pumps, said the department ran out of unleaded gasoline early yesterday morning, and that there are only about 700 gallons of regular gas left for today. "That won't get us to noon by a whole heck of a lot," Spellman said.

The vehicles that went out of service yesterday all require unleaded fuel.

Today, Spellman said, most of the department's tree-trimmers and street-repair crews will have to walk to their locations around the city, carrying whatever equipment they can. The ticket-writers, booters and towing crews, Spellman said, have arranged to borrow some gasoline from the fire department, which runs its own pumps -- and apparently paid its bill on time.

Spellman said the money was there, but somewhere in the process, the bill just didn't get paid.

Alan Grip, director of the D.C. Office of Communications, said yesterday that "it was a problem with the computer that prints the checks." Spellman said, "I don't think you can blame it on the computer -- maybe it's the people who can't run the computer."