Washington's gasoline supply crunch became a midweek as well as weekend problem yesterday as long and often angry lines of motorists formed at service stations.
At the same time, dealers said the vast majority of the Washington area's 1,500 stations now are open only two to four hours a day and not at all on Sundays. They said they cannot remain open longer and still make their curtailed supplies of fuel last through the month.
Angry customers saw it differently.
"They're crowding everybody up into a few hours. If the stations were open anywhere near normal hours, there'd never be that line," said James R. Durbin, a psychologist from Fairfax County.
During the past month or so, lines at stations have been virtually a weekend-only phenomenon, beginning Friday and spilling over into Monday. But with three consecutive days of increasingly long lines this week, they have become part of everyday life.
While many stations had closed by mid-morning yesterday, others opened and immediately attracted long lines of cars. Most motorists waited patiently, some for hours. Others shouted and shook their fists angrily whenever cars appeared to cut in line ahead of them.
Metro officials complained to D.C. police that lines of automobiles along Connecticut Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue and other major arteries in Upper Northwest Washington were blocking bus lanes and delaying service.
Across Rock Creek Park in the upper 16th Street NW area, residents complained that the lines and related traffic were disturbing quiet neighborhoods.
Some tempers boiled. At a Merit station at Sixth Street and Florida Avenue NE, an elderly man apparently cut unintentionally into a line of cars where it was spaced to allow traffic through an intersection a block from the station.
The gasoline-hungry motorists zoomed up behind the man, blowing their horns and shouting at him to go to the rear of the line. He pulled out of the line and disappered.
Dealers in the city and in suburban Maryland and Virginia reported that many motorists lining up as early as 5 a.m. yesterday.
Ana Exxon dealer in Springfield said the line began forming at his station at 5:15 a.m. "There's not a hell of a lot we can do," he said. "We're just rolling with the punches."
Charles H. Dickinson, owner of Dick's Texaco at Fourth Street and Florida Avenue NE, said he opened at 5 a.m. yesterday but had to close by 10:30 a.m.
"I can pumps 1,861 gallons a day," he said."As soon as that's used up, I close. . . . I used to be open from 5 to 5 but for the last two months I've been closing early."
Dickinson said that, in addition to ordinary auto business, he provides gasoline for about 250 trucks, many of which deliver produce from nearby Florida Avenue Market to stores and restaurants in the City.
"I got 63 commercial accounts for those trucks," Dickinson said. To make sure they get their daily supply, he said, he limits most other motorists who come to his station to $5 purchases.
People are responding to the shortages by taking the Metro rail and bus more than ever before. Subway ridership has risen in the last few days by 10,000 riders a day and bus revenues are up 6 percent-both because of the gasoline crunch, according to Robert Pickett, a planner at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Dealers and other observers here said the midweek lines are a result of sharply curtailed supplies from the oil companies to dealers, a sharp increase in tourism, and nice weather that has encouraged area residents to use their autos more.
"I've just been out here checking license plates, and 70 percent of them are from out of state," said Springfield Exxon dealer Roy Page, citing evidence of increased tourism.
Officials in Virginia, Maryland and the District said they have no immediate plans to institute odd-even gasoline rationing in the Washington area. A plan in effect in many California cities limits gasoline purchases for cars with odd-numbered license plates to odd days to the month and so on.
Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes met with his energy advisers yesterday and said he was considering steps intended to ease the growing gasoline lines. He said he will disclose his plans today.
Baltimore and Richmond also had long lines and traffic snarls near service stations yesterday-a marked escalation of problems in those cities. The American Automobile Association reported severely curtailed Station hours and some lines in cities throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic states.
Dealers, travel associations and trade officials said supplies of gasoline at Washington area stations will be tight again this weekend, fewer than half the stations will be open Saturday, they said, and then only for a few hours. Practically none will be open Sunday, They said.
"Bad news all the way around, prices are up and availability is really deteriorating," said William Zorzi, a spokesman for the Automobile Club of Maryland.
Gasoline will be available at stations on interstate highways and rural areas, the observers said, but there will be purchase limits of from $4 to $10 on most interstates.
Metropolitan area business leaders said yesterday that the crunch has had little impact on business here so far.
"It will [have an impact] if things continue as they are. I'm sure it will begin to show up in sales figures," said Stephen Eckert, technical director of the Suburban Maryland Home Builers Association.
"I've sensed that there has been a larger number of no-shows [at hotels] on the past few weekends than is normal at this time of year," said Leonard Nickman, executive vice president of the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C.
Service stations here and nationally are receiving 22 to 25 percent less gasoline than they did in June a year ago. The means that with an increase in demand of 5 percent or more, the average motorist here can only get about 70 percent of the gasoline he would use if there were no shortage.
In May, supplies to stations were not quite so tight-about 15 to 20 percent less than in May a year ago.
The curtailments to stations keep increasing because, among other things, the number of priority customers such as farmers, some truckers and others grows at the crisis continues. These priority customers are entitled to all the gasoline and diesel fuel they want.
As the priority lists grow the average motorist is left with less and less.
Also, as the summer wears on the oil companies are likely to come under increasing pressure to build their home heating oil stocks more rapidly for the winter than they are now doing-and this would cut into gasoline production.
"I do not look for the tightness to slow up much before the end of the summer," said William R. Silver, eastern division marketing manager for Sunoco.
At the Merit station at Sixth Street and Florida Avenue NE, one of the few that have managed to stay open 24 hours a day here during the current gas crunch, attendants continued to do a brisk trade. Attendants hustled the traffic along, whistling and signaling to waiting motorists to pull into the station's 12 self-service islands.
"It's been getting buster and buster here," said station manager Edward Houston," . . . and this morning, for the first time in the 10 years since I've been here, we ran out of gas."
Actually, he said, the station ran out of regular and unleaded gasoline but still had a supply of premium. He said Merit delivery trucks were delayed by roadblocks set up by protesting independent truckers in Maryland late Tuesday night.
Several station owners and managers said there has been a marked increase in customers coming on foot with the and five-gallon gas cans to be filled.
"A lot of them say they've run out of gas," said Dickinson of Pick's Texaco, "but I think a lot of them are just stock it up." CAPTION: Picture, Dick's Texaco at Fourth Street and Florida Avenue NE opened at 5 a.m. yesterday and closed when his daily allocation was reached-at 10:30 a.m. By Margaret Thomas-The Washington Post; Picture 2, Charles Dickinson: "A lot of them are storing it up." By Margaret Thomas-The Washington Post