On the night of April 30, dozens of drivers queued at gas stations in Ashgabat and Turkmenabat. Previously, a rumor that gasoline prices would be increased country-wide starting on May 1 circulated among the population.
Drivers said they had heard that the price for one liter of fuel grade A-95 would increase from 1 manat to 2.5 or even 3.5 manats. One American dollar costs 3.5 manats (fixed state exchange rate) and 7 manats (black-market rate).
ANT sources who waited in line at the pump in Ashgabat and in Turkmenabat reported the drivers’ hype over the rumors.
In Ashgabat, a line of cars formed early in the evening. Into the night, the line grew from several dozens to at least three hundred cars. Policemen whistled and waved their batons in an effort to disperse the drivers and restore order, but the drivers refused to leave, saying they otherwise would “have to pay three times more to fill the tank” the next day.
Despite the hype, gasoline prices did not change in May. The workers at the pump were themselves surprised of such an influx of drivers on April 30. They said they had neither heard of a price increase, nor received instructions from the state.
“These rumors could be associated with the recent increase in prices of rail and air transport,” a source told an ANT correspondent at a gas station in Ashgabat.
Cars, however, swarmed in and created traffic jams, even in so-called ‘protocol streets’. Consequently, the police blocked the entrance of gas stations.
In Turkmenabat, as police denied entry, more cars started queuing. By 1 a.m. on May 1, gasoline prices remained stable at 1 manat per liter.
Some of the drivers that spoke to ANT said they could not trust either the workers at the pump or the policemen that were trying to convince them that prices would remain unchanged.
“The same happened with the sudden increase in the official exchange rate in 2015. Back then they also unofficially told us not to believe the rumors, reassuring that the rate will remain the same. And in the end what happened? The rate jumped from 2.85 manats for one dollar to 3.5 manats,” a driver said.
A local ANT observer said he was surprised that drivers flocked in to buy gasoline arguing that it was “still cheap.”
“It’s not as if they can stockpile supplies for a lifetime. The maximum they can buy is 50 or 60 liters. Then, in a couple of days, they would still have to pay the new price, whatever it may be,” he noted.
In Turkmenistan, gasoline prices are fixed and are among the lowest in the world. For several years, until April 2014, car owners received 120 liters of gasoline per month for free.