Long-distance bus market set in motion in Germany
By Estelle Peard, AFP
March 24, 2014, 12:32 am TWN
FRANKFURT--Cheaper than taking a train or a plane and more relaxing than driving, the long-distance bus is becoming the travel mode of choice for many Germans after the market opened up last year.
Since the regional coach market was liberalized in January 2013, a plethora of operators has hit the road to win a slice of the hotly contested sector.
Bright yellow, apple green or electric blue, shiny new coaches in garish colors now compete for attention and market share as they criss-cross Europe's most populous country.
The newcomers try to lure passengers with comfortable seats, Wi-Fi Internet connections and sometimes free coffee.
Until last January 2013, coach services were limited to protect railway company Deutsche Bahn (DB).
Previously only a few long-distance bus services were allowed, some of them DB subsidiaries, mainly on routes that connected West Berlin with the rest of the former West Germany since before national reunification in 1990.
Now any company can enter the regional coach market for distances of at least 50 kilometers and routes with at least one hour between stops.
Within one year, these intercity bus links have almost tripled to 221, according to transport ministry figures.
Christoph Gipp of the IGES research institute said there are now 10 to 15 additional players in this "very dynamic market."
"Some smaller players have disappeared and some have merged with larger ones, for example MeinFernbus (my long distance bus)," he said.
This Berlin start-up, founded by two partners who had met as students, has taken the pole position with a market share of nearly 40 percent, according to an IGES study.
Attractive Prices, Fierce Competition
"Demand is strong, our buses are booked out regularly," one of its founders, Torben Greve, told AFP. Last year, his company transported 2.7 million people.
Deutsche Bahn is the second largest player, ahead of newcomers like ADAC Postbus, formed jointly by the automobile club ADAC and logistics group Deutsche Post.
Smaller new operators are Flixbus and DeinBus, while British operator National Express has also stepped in under the name City2City.