Are There Fewer Gas Stations Than There Used to Be?

It’s been my impression that, at least in West Van and downtown Vancouver, there are fewer gas stations than there used to be? Is this true? Did a lot of the gas stations move out to the suburbs?

I rarely drive, so it’s not really a pressing concern for me, but I think I’ve observed this trend over the past fifteen years. I’m particularly aware of it because former gas station land has to lie fallow for a long time, so you become familiar with these weed-choked cement lots waiting for redevelopment.

Hang on. I did some further searching, and came up with some data courtesy of UBC. It’s not particularly current, but it confirms my observation:

The table below shows the number of gas stations in Vancouver in 1970 and 1998. There has been a reduction of 209 gas stations in this time period. However, there are 39 new sites, so the number of abandoned sites since 1970 is 248.

I also found this article about disappearing gas stations in Manhattan:

Since 1999, the number of gas stations in Manhattan has declined by 18 percent, to 207, according to the Fire Department, which maintains a record of gas stations in the city. Cropping up in their places are everything from condos to clothing stores.

It’s not surprising, really. If you have ten gas stations in a city, and get rid of five, you get more efficient and the number of possible customers remains the same.


  1. It’s been going downward for a number of years. Well over 10 years ago I worked for a caterer, and we had a rare job downtown Vancouver. When we got there he announced that we had not brought any ice and that his plan all along had been to send me to a gas station to get some since I knew downtown fairly well. Of course, in his mind he didn’t see it taking more than 20 minutes, and needless to say I had a few choice words to mutter under my breath.

  2. Efficiency yes. However it perhaps is also about tightly controlling supply while demand likely is increasing. Ca Ching!

  3. I heard on the CBC that compared to the Calgary Olympics Petro Canada has many many fewer stations… In 1988 they had 4000 stations and now there are only 1300 coast to coast.

    Fewer stations to sell commemorative Olympics glasses at… but less competition too… after all they make there money not on gas but on selling commemorative glasses every 20 years.

  4. I’d been thinking the same thing lately, Darren.

    And my searching led me to the same UBC map! I think it was a student project from 1999.

    It made me wish there was an updated map of decommissioned sites. Or — how cool would this be? — a layer on Google Earth where you could go back in recent history on a spot.

    Zoom in on old False Creek…watch Science World disappear…replaced by mudflats and industry…seeing the paths where the creeks used to flow…

  5. My guess here is twofold:

    – Land value. Real estate in the city costs a lot more than it used to, so redeveloping gas station sites (which are pretty big) as something that takes up more than a flat ground-level fuel station has to be worth it.

    – Multi-pronged efficiency improvements. Nearly all stations are now self-serve, multi-pump facilities with convenience stores, whereas when I was a kid they were full-serve, few-pump stations, usually with a repair garage as well. I’m sure the time-per-customer is lower than it used to be (no turnaround time for the attendant to get to you, paying at the pump, few of us wipe our windshields or check our oil, and we get our cars fixed elsewhere). Even when self-serve started coming in, I remember my dad frequently checking fluids, adjusting the timing belt, and so on. Newer cars don’t need that kind of babying. And there are more pumps per station, so the efficiency goes up hugely for all those reasons.

    So, as everyone said, oil companies can serve more cars with far fewer stations. I don’t think the monopoly/collusion argument is any more valid now, though. I don’t see significantly fewer station NAMES (Esso, Chevron, Petro-Can, Shell, Mohawk, etc.) than I used to, just fewer stations run by those companies.

  6. We saw a steep decline in stations in Nova Scotia during our last years in Canada (prior to 2005). Most of the stations that were closing were older, and also most of the tanks located at general stores also closed.

    My understanding is that the driving force behind the closures was the spiraling cost of insuring the underground storage tanks against leakage. Environmental cleanup of leaking storage tanks is incredibly expensive. The insurance companies began to charge unaffordable premiums and, in some cases, refused coverage altogether.

    1. My understanding as to part of the reason why stations are disappearing is in the province of BC, when a station becomes 20 years old, the gasoline storage tanks need to be replaced which means having to tear down the gas station then letting the soil recover for as much as 10 years at which time the gas companies find it is just not worth the hassle of rebuilding the station.

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