Dramatic drop in rural petrol station numbers

Just 20-50 stations remain in some departments but local authorities are finding solutions

The number of rural petrol stations in France is in sharp decline but some local authorities are taking measures to help drivers out.

Between 1980 and 2015, the number of petrol stations has dropped dramatically from 40,000 to 11,269 – and, when combined with the rise in supermarkets selling petrol at lower cost, as well as new industry standards, it means the smaller stations are struggling to survive.

The petrol retail market is divided between GMS outlets (grandes et moyennes surfaces – medium and large petrol retailers) and traditional, smaller independents. In 2014 the former held 61% of the market - in stark contrast to the 39% it held in the early 1980s.

In rural regions such as Cantal, Lozère, Hautes-Alpes, Meuse and the Ardennes "there are only 20 to 50 service stations", said Emilie Repusseau, head of the FNAA federation of small station owners. Non-urban areas are seeing fuel retailers close one after the other.

Three years ago, the federation joined forces with the Association of Rural Mayors of France (AMRF) to sound the alarm on the "gradual disintegration of the territorial fuel distribution network". Back then, in 38 departments, motorists had to drive between 15 and 38 minutes to find a station.

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The AMRF reminded the government of its responsibilities but not long afterwards, at the end of 2014, the Professional Committee for the Distribution of Fuels (CPDC), which provided subsidies for the upgrading of environmental standards, diversification of activities and support for retirements and closures, was abolished.

Now villages and small towns have been forced to find their own solutions.

In Blet, a small town of 600 in Cher, the pumps are open in the main square every Sunday during market. The Martin family have been selling petrol here for 60 years. “It’s a lively place. In the village, the main street is the centre of the world, so having a small petrol station out on the main road would not work,” said Mr Martin.

Elsewhere in Cher, since 1991 the local authority in Ourouer-les-Bourdelins has supported the town’s only petrol station. Money making is not a motive – in 2016 the mairie made just €800 profit on its three pumps.

However, municipal involvement in the sale of petrol is complex and is not thought be a real solution to the problem.

 In addition, there are some 600 ‘ghost’ stations around France that cannot be used or dismantled because of lack of funding for the correct pollution controls.

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