EVEN THOSE AREA motorists who by now are steeled to endure the slow crawls to the gas pumps must be baffled by the supply game -- the reported inequities in the allocations and distributions around the District, Maryland and Virginia. Clearly the system isn't working at all well; the government's allocation plans have merely aggravated the trouble.
You read, for example, that during July things may get worse in Maryland but should be slightly less frantic in Virginia and the District -- even though this whole region seems to be getting hit much harder than most of the rest of the country. Still, Virginia officials are saying that now and then they have received more gasoline than projected. In Maryland, metropolitan areas have been left severely short -- while energy officials have been channeling millions of gallons of the state's emergency supplies to jobbers who say they serve rural users whole claims generally go undocumented.
Add to this the news of a ruling by the Department of Energy that major gasoline suppliers may, on their own initiative, shift up to 5 percent of the gas in an area of relative surplus to an area with an acute shortage. This is said to mean that suppliers may take gas from the Maryland and Virginia countryside and give it to stations in the District or its suburbs. That, apparently, is in addition to any shifts of "set-aside" gas -- which is the 5 percent of a state's total supply that a governer may send anywhere he determines.
Little wonder, then, that station-owners are just as puzzled as motorists about their supplies; and this uncertainty leads to constant rejiggerings of stations' pumping times, unpredictable rushes into the lines and early closings to protect those supplies. This area has had an especially hard time of it, but here around the country the solutions do not lie in more tinkering with the allocations or in an elaborate system of rationing. On the contrary, much of the uneasiness and uncertainty is caused by the government's attempts to do the distributing instead of letting the market operate.