SO DROPPING the odd-even gasoline rule was a bad idea. Today, barely a month after the end of the restriction, gas lines are back and growing -- and guess what people are calling for? Don't look now, but it seems there's a way to cut in half the number of cars eligible to get in line each day, and it has to do with the last digits on license plates. Not only does odd-even provide a sensible ground rule for purchasing, but is serves as a constant reminder that gasoline conservation is still important.

There are occasional reminders, of course -- Iran sends along its share, and political events elsewhere around the world tend to jog motorists' memories now and then. But the governments' lifting of the daily odd-even plan conveys a notion that the "problem" has disappeared, that once again it's open season on gas supplies. Just as misleading are on-again, off-again applications of the odd-even rule.

Instead of stalling until full-blown panic makes a comeback, the governors of Maryland and Virginia and the mayor of the District should reinstate odd-even. And while they're at it, they might try to come up with some incentives for station owners to keep something resembling regular hours. Much of the scrambling -- and topping off of tanks -- occurs because motorists haven't a clue as to when they may see another open station. A few basic and regionally uniform policies would give everyone a more reasonable crack at the limited supplies available.