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Need Gas? It's Twitter To The Rescue

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USING TWITTER TO FIND GAS
AP

Dennis Jones has less than half a tank of gas to get him from New Jersey to Brooklyn and back. When he runs out, he won't check Yelp or Google Maps for the nearest station.

Instead, he'll ask his tweeps.

Jones is just one of thousands of drivers using Twitter to find and share information on where to refuel without the long lines and empty pumps that have plagued New York and New Jersey drivers in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Twitter handles broadcasting the latest news from the pumps, such as @NJGas and @BrooklynGas, have picked up several hundred followers in just a few days' time. NJGas, run by a husband-and-wife team in New Jersey, now boasts more than 6,000 followers.

Melanie Lindauer, media coordinator at the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said that she’s seen a noticeable uptick in the number of cab drivers using Twitter to find stations where they can refuel and noted that the alliance's Twitter account, @NYTWA, has more than doubled its number of followers since Thursday.

Twitter has become a critical resource for drivers trying to get to work, bring supplies to electricity-less East Coast neighborhoods or reach family members in need.

Jones uses the hashtag #NJGas to check out where his fellow New Jerseyans have found stations short on wait times and filled with fuel, and has been one of many drivers tipping off others to such spots. Numerous other hashtags, including #NYCGas, #QueensGas and #BrooklynGas, offer tips for other locales.

"I have never been steered wrong by someone telling me that I could get gas here or there," said Jones. "I just think [Twitter] is the best way for information to travel the fastest."

Twitter accounts dedicated to surfacing gas stations have been set up by concerned parties willing to donate their time or expertise to helping others in the wake of the super storm.

Kalman Jacobsohn, 27, created the @BrooklynGas account last Thursday and has been posting tips on where to find short lines in his borough. He tracks multiple hashtags (such as #BKGas, #NYGas and #NYCGas) and general terms (like "Brooklyn gas"), and retweets posts such as, "The BP at 92nd St & 4th Ave in Bay Ridge has gas. Car line is about a block long in each dir" or "10 minute wait for gas at Sunoco Atlantic & Henry in Brooklyn please forward to your ppl, get on line at Hicks" at the clip of about 10 tweets an hour. He’s also posting firsthand observations from his Brooklyn neighborhood -- and, on Sunday, a "happy birthday" message to his mom.

"I figured I have plenty of time to give. I should give it a shot to help people out," said Jacobsohn on his motivation for creating the account. "It seemed like an easy way to help people out because I could do it from where I was. I didn't have to go someplace to give people a hand."

Jacobsohn, who tweets from his home, initially declined to answer any questions about himself, offering the Batman-like excuse that by hiding his identity, he hoped to show people that "anybody could have made this account."

Frank Harris, product manager of search at Brooklyn-based startup Etsy, has taken a more high-tech approach to broadcasting updates. Over the weekend, he created seven Twitter feeds -- including @NYCGasFinder, @BronxGasFinder and @NassauGasFinder -- that provide a near real-time accounting of purchases at gas stations around the tristate area. The transaction information is pulled from WEX, a payment processor for large fleets and corporations (see all the details here).

Harris noted that his Twitter accounts will tell followers if a station is open and pumping, but not how long the line is. "Part of me feels like I'm just telling people where there are long lines," he added wryly.

"I've been trying to figure out how to best help with this [Hurricane Sandy]. We're doing canned food drives at Etsy and matching donations at Etsy, and I am helping out with those, but this seemed like something I'm uniquely positioned to do," said Harris, who described himself as "going crazy inside" in the wake of the storm. "I actually don’t have a car, but it kept popping up on my Twitter feed that my friends were looking for gas, so that and the news reports about the outages and long lines inspired me to do it."

Drivers are even getting information straight from the source: Hess Express, which operates more than a thousand filling stations along the East Coast, has been tweeting updates on the fuel inventory at its gas stations every two hours until 10 p.m.

Twitter has also been tipping people off on where to go once they refuel. Jones, who lost power in his Stockholm, N.J., home, used the hashtag #NJopen to find an open restaurant that could feed his family for dinner. (In case you're wondering, he found a hot meal at the Route 4 West diner in Englewood, N.J.)

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