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Competitive pricing moves into mass transport

The Finnish State Railways VR is responding to competition from budget bus and airline services with cut-priced Saturday fares. Carriers, big and small, are also faced with the challenge of more private motoring as petrol prices continue to fall.

Onnibus-yhtiön linja-auto
Image: Marko Melto / Yle

Finnish mass transport has been criticized as expensive. At last, this summer, some changes are being seen.

As of the beginning of June, four new budget bus lines hit the road. For its part, the Finnish State Railways VR is offering reduced-price joint ticketing and special Saturday prices. VR wants to fill its trains on every day of the week.

"Price affects my travel, but I always travel by train. I haven't noticed cheaper tickets," says Pihla Siltanen, a regular on the Helsinki - Seinäjoki route.

Something has gone wrong with VR's marketing efforts, since many travellers at Helsinki’s main station say the same.

"I haven't noticed any special offers on tickets. For my summer holidays, I'm getting a lift from somebody I know," explains Kirsti Sainola-Rodriquez.

Price and speed

If sitting for hours on a train doesn't sound attractive, inexpensive flights in Finland are another alternative. For example, a flight from Helsinki to Savonlinna can be found for as little as 40 euros.

"I fly a lot with budget airlines. I've noted that VR has some offers, too. It's a shame that the offers on train tickets rarely fit my schedule," says Maarit Laukkanen, who often makes the trip between Helsinki and Jyväskylä.

More routes in 2014

As of the start of June, the budget bus company Onnibus will start operating new routes. It will be offering tickets at a cost of 3 euros, for example, for travel between Turku and Helsinki.

The biggest private service and marketing company specialising in bus and coach services, Matkahuolto, has been less than lukewarm about the newcomer. Arrivals and departures by Onnibus do not yet appear on station boards. This matter has gone to the national Competition Authority to be settled.

Until 2014, Onnibus will be operating on only a few routes.

"We are still not a big player. I don't think it was us that got VR to offer cheaper tickets, there has to be some other reason," notes Onnibus CEO Pekka Möttö.

Some people will drive regardless

Private motoring will still be one alternative to mass transport this summer. The price of petrol has been falling for several weeks.

On Tuesday, the best price of a litre of petrol was 1.559 euros. The most expensive petrol in the country was selling in Jyväskylä for 1.779 euros a litre.

Found tanking up at a station in Helsinki, Olli Keränen had no complaints.

"I noticed on the news that petrol prices were down. That's nice, but I'm not going to hoard it. It doesn't affect my driving that much. Summer trips will all be made by car."

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