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Cheaper ruble boosts 'petrol tourism'

At present currency exchange rates, petrol pump prices just across the border in Russia are nearly half of what they are in Finland. Growing numbers of motorists, especially in the south-east are driving regularly to Russia to tank up.

Bensaa tankataan Viipurissa.
Image: Yle

On many days, the first Finnish customers pull into service stations in the Russian city of Vyborg at the crack of dawn.

"There aren't many times that I've filled up in Finland over the past ten years," says Vesa Ropponen, a resident of Lappeenranta.

Ropponen estimates that he drives around 25,000 km a year, so a full tank of petrol lasts him a couple of weeks. Crossing the border into Russia to buy his petrol is an exceptionally good deal. Right now, a litre of 95-grade lead-free petrol costs around 52 eurocents and diesel a little over 40 eurocents a litre - only about half of the pump prices in Finland.

There is the expense of a visa to consider, but even so, another Lappeenranta resident, Matti Kälviäinen, told Yle that crossing the border regularly to tank up his car saves him a thousand euros a year.

Fuel prices have remained steady in Vyborg, even though there has been a sharp rise in the price of many goods, including foodstuffs.

"The Russian government wants fuel prices, in rubles, to stay more or less stable, but you can also hear in the news that it is expected that the prices can grow according to the inflation rates," says Julija Matisova, marketing director for the fuel retailer Neste St. Petersburg.

More traffic expected

Finnish citizens made 109,583 crossings at south-eastern border points in January. Even though the total volume of cross-border traffic has been in decline, that figure was up. Nearly all of the increase in the number of visits is being attributed to 'petrol tourism'.

Beoscan Oy is a Lappeenranta-based company that provides motorists a credit service for purchasing fuel in Russia. It expects that petrol tourism will shoot up this spring, if the exchange rate of the ruble remains low.

"Getting a visa takes some time, and not everyone wants to travel to Russia in the winter," points out Beoscan CEO Vesa Kaukonen.

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