JACKSON HEIGHTS – A Queens gas station owned by a taxi tycoon is refusing to sell gas toÂ anyone but yellow cabs – with preferential treatment for his own drivers – evenÂ as desperate motorists line up for blocks to get fuel amid aÂ massive shortage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
On the eve of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s mandatory gas-rationing plan, a Shell station on Northern Boulevard andÂ 71st Street was giving away a seemingly endless supply of gas – mainly toÂ members of taxi mogul Evgeny Freidman’s taxi fleet.
Freidman’s gas station had three working pumps on Thursday and has been flushÂ with gas in the wake of the hurricane, even as dozens of others around the fiveÂ boroughs ran dry and closed, sparking massive lines.
The station waved away at least five pleading motorists trying to fill up atÂ the pump within an hour that evening while yellow cabs flew through the line andÂ filled up, as officials from the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission stood byÂ and watched.
“We’re just here to provide security,” said a TLC official, who turned up atÂ the station at 5 p.m. Thursday, along with several NYPD officers, after gettingÂ “hundreds” of 911 calls about fights at that station.
Two pumps were reserved for Taxi Club Management, Freidman’s massive fleet ofÂ cabs. All other cab drivers, who had been turned away from the station until theÂ TLC intervened Wednesday, had to wait in two-block-long lines to use the thirdÂ pump, even when the Taxi Club lines were empty.
The scene came as the city rolled out a controversial odd-even gas rationingÂ planÂ gas rationing plan, only allowing those whose licenseÂ plateÂ ends in an even number to get gas on even-numbered days, and those whose licenseÂ plate ends in an odd number, a letter or another character to get gas onÂ odd-numbered days.
The order does not apply to taxis or livery vehicles, becauseÂ they are a part of the “public transportation system,” city officials saidÂ Thursday.
Police who were briefly on hand at the Jackson Heights station ThursdayÂ directed traffic and tried to keep order, telling one angry driver waiting in aÂ long line that there was nothing he could do because it was a privateÂ facility.
“If you’re serving the public, you should serve the public at all times,” Maribel Egipciaco, 52, who waited in line for 15 minutes before anÂ attendant came out and shooed her away.
Egipciao added that she plans to boycott the station long after the gasÂ situation returns to normal, and recommended others do the same.
Freidman, who has 232 medallions, the most owned by anyone in the city, accordingÂ to Crain’s, defended his tactics.
“It’s my gas that I’m paying a ridiculous amount of money for,” saidÂ Freidman, adding he’s been shipping the gas in from places like Boston and NewÂ Hampshire, “I think we’re providing an essential service for taxiÂ cabs.”
Gas at the station was going for $4.50 a gallon for drivers not inÂ Freidman’s fleet, with a maximum purchase of $40.
Freidman, 41, emigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1976, according to Crain’s New York Business, and becameÂ giant of the taxi industry who owns one of the city’s largest fleets, Taxi ClubÂ Management, Inc.
His cab companies include: 28th Street Management, which is based in Chelsea;Â the Queens-based garage Woodside Management; Downtown Taxi Management, which isÂ based in Park Slope; and Tunnel Taxi Management, which is based in Long IslandÂ City.
Drivers had other words for the lockout.
Woodside resident Will Wade-Pentel, 25, was driving around on WednesdayÂ looking to fill up his parents’ car. He waited for 15 minutes, and the car wasÂ below a quarter-tank of gas when he was turned away.
“The subways are back,” Wade-Pentel said. “There doesn’t seem like any reasonÂ to be doing this ‘taxis only’ rule.”
Cab driver Maurice Jiminez, 43, who said he drove as far as Westport CT inÂ search of gas, was among one the drivers turned away by attendants at Freidman’sÂ Shell station.
“They asked me ‘what garage do you belong to?’ and I knew what wasÂ happening,” said Jiminez, who does not drive for Taxi Club. “They were basicallyÂ just supplying their [fleet of] cars with gas.”
A TLC spokesman said the agency was aware of theÂ station, and confirmed that they had dispatched a detail of 8 TLC officers andÂ supervisors to the site Thursday night after police requested help with crowdÂ control.
TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg said he was not aware of any other stationsÂ where the TLC had to become involved in a similar manner.
He added that agents were there purely for crowd control, not to stop privateÂ drivers from getting gas.
“It would not be our role to turn people away,” he said.
He said he wasn’t sure whether that station is typically reserved for cabs – but said his understanding was that the owner uses it mostly to service his ownÂ fleet.
He added that the TLC distributed free gas to livery cabs and yellow cabs atÂ Floyd Bennett field from 9 p.m. Thursday night to 6 a.m. Friday. The TLC alsoÂ has a facility in Woodside, a few blocks from Freidman’s station, where cabbiesÂ can also fuel up for free, officials said.
Fromberg noted that a single cab can transport as many as 70 passengers in aÂ given day.
The spokesman said that he was unaware of any other station refusingÂ service to locals while selling gas to cab drivers.
A TLC official asked the attendants Thursday if they could let the other cabsÂ use the open pumps, to no avail.
“I was just saying to this guy, ‘Why can’t you open the rest of these toÂ serve these cabs faster?'” the official said.
Source: DNA Info