The Washington area is moving this weekend toward the sharpest gasoline shortage since the 1974 Arab oil embargo, with many local gas stations curtailing hours and many more planning to close down completely on Sunday.
Vic Rasheed, executive secretary of the Greater Washington-Maryland Service Station Association, predicted that 90 percent of the area's 1,200 gas stations will be closed Sunday, Mother's Day. Even yesterday afternoon, increasing numbers of homeward bound commuters found their neighborhood stations closed early.
Area dealers attributed the curtailments in part to a real but limited shortage of fuel but also to what they say is increased hoarding by motorists spurred by dramatic news accounts earlier this week of fuel rationing in California.
"The California publicity seems to have some bearing on all this," said John Murphy, owner of Rollins Park Shell station at 1807 Rockville Pike in Rockville.
"We noticed it early this week," he said in an interview yesterday. "And today was the worst-people filling up for only $3 and $4 . . . My gasoline production [sales] per hour is greater now than a week ago, and I think it's because of the excitability" caused by the Calitfornia news stories.
Several California counties implemented odd-even license number rationing for cars this week. Newspaper and television accounts were accompanied by pictures of long lines of cars waiting to be serviced at gas stations in Los Angeles and other cities.
Other states also have been reported readying standby rationing plans. Here in Washington last night, the House of Representatives killed a national standby plan approved earlier this week by the Senate.
For motorists planning a trip this weekend, Glenn T. Lashley, spokesman for the American Automobile Association, said it is difficult to know if gasoline will be more available on outlying highways to the beaches and mountains than in the immediate metropolitan area.
"Each service station owner makes his individual decision about his hours of operation and how he's going to allocate his supplies," Lashley said. He recommended that for the "short drive around this area, prople should gas up Friday or Saturday and not count on Sunday."
He said, "I believe we're going to go through an entire summer of uncertainty . . . People are changing their vacation plans because of the uncertainty."
Murphy and other dealers yesterday expressed irritation with hoarding and "panicky" news accounts about shortages.
"Let's mellow it (the shortage situation), not excite it," Murphy said.
"We don't want to create a panic situation," said Rasheed. "People are topping off their tanks when they're already almost full . . . It's entirely unnecessary."
Rasheed said local stations so far this month are getting only 80 to 90 percent of the amount they sold in the same period last year.
"Exxon and Shell are getting 80 percent," he said, "and Amoco is at 90 percent . . . If we drop another 5 percent in June, then we're probably going to have to go to odd-even rationing."
Chuck Clinton, director of the District of Columbia's newly created energy unit in the mayor's office, was miore optimistic.
The oil companies are expected to deliver 92 percendt of last May's volume during the current month, "and there just appears to be a rough spot in the delivery of it right now . . . We expect to get it all by the end of the month."
He said the District has a standby odd-even gas allocation plan that is designed to be implemented jointly with Maryland and Virginia. "But," he emphasized, "we are not on the verge of implementing it."
Dealers in the area say they are curtailing hours and limiting gas purchases to conserve supplies. Many are setting a daily average limit on sales and closing when that limit is reached to assure a regular supply until the oil company distributors replenish their underground storage tanks.
Murphy, at the Rollins Park Shell station, for example, said he closed at 4 p.m. on Wednesday "when I used up my daily average." He says he normally closes at 6 p.m.
A spot check of gas stationsin the area showed a wide range of curtailment practices. A few stations reported no change in their hours. Some limit gasoline purchases to $5 or $10. One station on upper 14th Street NW filled a motorist's tank only half full because the car bore an out-of-state (Ohio) tag.
Wilson's Exxon Service Center at 900 11th St. SE said it now closes at 6 p,m., instead of 11 p.m. It is also closed on Sundays.
Colyer Exxon Service Center at 7312 Richmond Hwy. in Alexandria reported it is now open only nine hours, instead of 14 hours a day and limits gasoline purchases to $5 a customer.
No stations reported large waiting lines of cars but several said some brief backups have occurred. Many stations reported larger shortages of regular or hightest fuel. CAPTION: Picture, Speaker O'Neill and Rep. John Dingell, supporters of Carter's standby rationing plan, confer before House debate. By James K.W. Atherton-The Washington Post