A long-distance train at Helsinki Central in July 2021. VR, the Finnish state-owned railway operator, has recently shifted from an 8-tier to a 25-tier dynamic price system in an attempt to steer consumer demand toward less-busy hours and periods. (Roni Rekomaa – Lehtikuva)


VR, the Finnish state-owned railway operator, has carried out a pricing revamp in an attempt to steer consumer demand toward less-busy hours and periods.

The revamp includes a shift from an 8-tier to a 25-tier price system that, in theory, promises savings to passengers booking their trip early and additional costs to passengers buying a ticket at the last minute, according to YLE.

The price of a journey is determined based not only on the route and distance, but also on the time of booking and projected demand for the travel dates. The price can also change several times in a day based on real-time fluctuations in customer demand as the price system utilises artificial intelligence to analyse large quantities of data on, for example, sales, bookings and passenger volumes for specific dates and routes.

“Artificial intelligence and algorithms assist us, but just like in other companies ultimately it’s people who guide the pricing process,” Piia Tyynilä, the director of long-distance services at VR, stated to YLE on Tuesday.

“And we create the principles for the pricing ourselves.”

Maiju Eskelinen, an expert in sustainable development at the University of Eastern Finland, argued to the public broadcasting company a day later that the revamp is a step in the wrong direction from the viewpoint of both equality and carbon-neutrality targets.

“People should be encouraged to travel more sustainably. This kind of a price policy doesn’t serve as an incentive,” she stated. “If the price changes steer people to travel by car or, at worst, fly, this will increase the carbon footprint significantly.”

The revamp, she added, can also increase inequalities between passengers as not everyone has the opportunity to plan their journey well in advance or travel on a weekday.

“I’m concerned about the situation of students,” said Eskelinen. “I’m sure many of them will have to reconsider travelling, and that can also have an impact on well-being if they don’t get to meet their friends or family [as a result].”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT