Remember the gas station in Boston that was charging $1.50 a gallon, open 24 hours and had no lines? I think we all would welcome a handful of those in every community. It is a fair and reasonably efficient means of dealing with the shortage.
A small number of service stations (maybe 5 to 10 percent) uniformly distributed in a given geographical area should be designated as select stations. These stations would be exempt from all government price controls immediately, and they would be able to charge whatever price they please.
However, in exchange for this select status, these stations would have to serve on demand and would be required to be open a minimum number of hours a day (somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 to 15), seven days a week. All nonselect service stations would operate under current rules and regulations.
Now, how does this help deal with the shortage? First, it will eliminate one of the biggest problems - uncertainty. If there is a station nearby that is open long hours and has gas to sell, even if the price is high, it should eliminate the panic buying that is associated with not knowing whether gas is or will be available. It would permit planning a vacation or trip, knowing with reasonble certainty that, should you get stuck somewhere where the regular stations are out, there will always be gas available at a select station - even if it does cost you $1.50 a gallon. At least you could get it! This should also help the tourist and travel industry. Their business has been suffering because motorists are reluctant to take trips when there is substantial uncertainty about getting there and back.
The proposal should also help to eliminate the long lines at the regular stations by diverting certain groups of consumers to the select stations. Those individuals who are an empty, or those with sufficient income, or those whose time is very valuable are likely to frequent the select stations. This will reduce the demand pressure at the regular stations, eliminate the lines and probably extend the operating hours of these stations. This is similar in many respect to the role of the 7-11 type stores relative to that of the large supermarkets. You pay significantly more, but you get quick in-and-out convenience and almost universal availability (open 24 hours and all holidays) of staples, such as milk, beer and charcoal lighter.
This proposal is designed to help the consumer through the shortage with a minimal sacrifice, but it also yields a benefit to service-station owners who have been complaining about profits that are too low. The select stations would be allowed to charge what the traffic would bear. This would presumably increase profits substantially, so the select-station status could be rotated periodically among stations in the area. This would permit relief from low profits without permitting a handful of stations to get rich off the beleaguered public.
How many select stations in a given area should there be? How shoud they be selected? How do we make sure that the select stations that are selling gas at higher prices don't bid away gas allocations designated for the regular stations? These questions and other would still have to be answered. However, the basic focus of the plan does yield substantial benefits in terms of reduced uncertainty concerning availability and the elimination of gas lines. This is accomplished through shifting those consumer groups that are willing and able to pay higher prices away from regular stations to the newly created select stations.