Turkmenistan likes to boast of its highly subsidized economy, but that has changed for some motorists as of this month.
On July 1, the owners of trucks, buses and tractors lost the right to free gasoline they have enjoyed since February 2008. From now on, only drivers of regular cars under 3.5 tons and motorcyclists will be eligible for the free fuel -- 720 liters of petrol and 240 liters of natural gas every six months.
Everyone else in the oil-rich state must pay market prices, which are, in fairness, still pretty affordable. The lowest-grade A-80 blend costs $0.19 per liter, while A-92 costs $0.20 and A-95 currently stands at $0.22. (Yes, in Americanese, that’s less than a dollar per gallon for premium gasoline.)
According to the presidential resolution that led to this change, some truck drivers were using their 1,200-liter concessions for personal purposes, instead of hauling goods.
Back in the days of the late President Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in December 2006, gas cost only $0.02 a liter, making it easily among the cheapest in the world. Once Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov came to power he began rationing gas with coupons, as electricity, household gas, water and salt were already dispersed.
Authorities say that since the fuel-coupon system was introduced in 2009, the number of car owners has risen by 12 percent, although there is no exact total available.
By regional standards, that figure isn’t particularly impressive and the sight of Soviet-era Lada Zhiguli cars, increasingly rare elsewhere, remains common even in the capital, Ashgabat.
With average salaries believed to hover around $200 a month, the prospect of buying a brand new car is pretty unthinkable for many people.