MOTORISTS in the inner cities are facing a growing shortage of petrol stations, leading to fears they could be forced to pay over the odds for fuel.
Developers are snapping up city petrol stations so they can build houses on the plots, leading to a shortage of garages and reduced competition.
Now AA Ireland, which campaigns for motorists, is concerned that a lack of competition in urban areas is affecting consumer choice.
“This is a growing concern of ours and the lack of competition is not good for motorists,” said AA Ireland spokesman Conor Faughnan.
“It’s difficult to say with any accuracy if urban motorists are having to pay more for fuel but choice is diminishing and that’s not a good thing.”
City petrol stations are closing because the owners can make more money from selling the land to developers than from selling petrol on tight profit margins, he said.
The average price of a litre of unleaded petrol is now 115.9c while diesel is 108.5c, according to the AA Ireland’s latest survey of prices at the pump.
Yet motorists nationwide can find petrol as low as 110.9c and as high as 120.9c as fuel prices have been unregulated in Ireland since 1993.
Mr Faughnan said: “Prices will vary by around 10c and we’re not too concerned about that as long as the consumer has choice.
“But with relatively few service stations in urban areas there is no incentive (for stations to compete) and that has a negative effect on prices and the consumer’s ability to shop around.”
Based on the AA’s average petrol prices, a family will spend around 173.85 a month on a typical saloon car.
By using the cheapest stations they could cut that bill to 166.35, a saving of 7.50 a month or 90 a year.
But by filling up at the costliest stations they would pay 181.35, which works out at 15 a month or 180 annually more expensive than the best deals.
Now AA Ireland is advising drivers to beat high prices by planning ahead when buying fuel and ensuring they never run low.
Motorists are advised to get to know the locations of the cheapest garages and fill up in advance as the lack of stations in urban areas could leave drivers stranded or out of pocket.
“Rather than waiting for the tank to run low and then have to fill up at an expensive place it makes more sense to plan your petrol and buy early if you can,” he said.
One solution to the disappearance of urban filling stations could be the introduction of unmanned self-service pumps as used in France.
At the fuel stops, which have just one or two pumps and take up less space, drivers fill up their cars, pay by bank card and then drive off.