The drive to the nearest gas station is probably going to take a little longer this year. For the eighth year in a row there are fewer gasoline stations than there were the previous years, according to the Commerce Department and oil industry executives.
"We see the closings continuing with more of the smaller outlets just shutting down," says Andrew Kostecka at the Commerce Department. Kostecka recently completed Commerce's annual survey of franchise outlets.
At the beginning of the year there were 155,200 stations in operation, compared with 172,300 a year ago, and 215,880 in 1973, the first year of the Arab oil embargo.
Dollar-a-gallon gasoline prices, lower gasoline consumption, the trend toward high volume stations and the complexity of the Energy Department's regulations have all added up to a squeeze on the number of stations, industry officials say.
The Lundberg Letter, an oil industry trade publication, syas the reduction is due "principally to the consolidation of gallonage. Any marketer with two or more stations can decide to sell his available supply through fewer outlets, mothballing or shutting down one or more permanently."
Lundberg says the number of stations operating this year has fallen to 155,200 -- 9,600 less than the Commerce Department estimates.
While the number of stations plumeted, the oil companies' revenues went the opposite direction, hitting $70.9 billion for 1979, compared with $60.8 billion the year before.
Escalating gasoline prices will add up to even higher revenues this year, Commerce says. Last year the average American gasoline station took in $430,245, and is expected to take in $489,380 this year -- an estimate industry officials privately say is probably too conservative.
Rising prices though, have forced a cutback in gasoline use.