The regulatory body of the coach transport market in France has recently published the data related to the 2018 financial year, describing intercity transport services in its country as unprofitable as it is far from covering costs. The data correspond to the offer of services of the only three operators that managed to stay in the French market, although this year one of them has bought another, leaving only two players in this market. In relation to this matter, the Spanish Confederation of Bus Transportation, CONFEBUS, has carried out an analysis that highlights the negative consequences of the liberalization model of road passenger transport in the German and French market, which has generated monopoly or oligopoly situations, has had an effect on prices, increasing rates, has caused the reduction of services and has diminished their quality, as well as the employment conditions of employment, among other highlights.
The analysis highlights that the recent liberalization of the German and French markets, historically closed to the bus due to the prevalence of the railroad, cannot be equated with the maturity and dimension of the Spanish market which has 15,947 km of rail network compared to 29,901 km in France and 41,896 km in Germany. The differences are also evidenced by confirming that Spain has a high geographical dispersion and a very low population density, lower than those of these two countries. Thus, in Spain, the bus plays an important backbone of society connecting 8,000 populations and allowing practically no population center with more than 50 inhabitants that is not served by at least one intercity bus line.
According to this analysis, market liberalization in these two countries has had effects on the market, such as the generation of monopoly or oligopoly situations. In the case of the German market, liberalized in January 2013, an operator completely dominates this market with a 94% share. Situation that has reached, according to the analysis, "after a process of concentration, acquisitions and insolvencies, supporting with pricing policies below its rivals." In France, the same operator also has a dominant position, although he meets the resistance of another business group, which maintains its pulse with this company at a loss.
On the contrary, in Spain, with a regulated market and in which tenders are open to any transport company with a minimum of technical and economic solvency, all of the Top 10 transport operators have only 32% market share, there are 3,323 companies with buses (more than 1,500 have fewer than 5 buses). In addition, in the particular case of road passenger transport services of the Ministry of Development, more than 26 business groups (48 companies) operate the 82 road passenger transport contracts of state competence.
The effects are also reflected on the rates. Thus, although at the beginning of liberalization in Germany very low prices were offered to travelers, when it acquires a dominant position, there is a significant rate hike, increasing by 18% from 2015 to 2018. It also emphasizes that bus prices in Germany increase significantly when smaller populations are served and, therefore, with less transport options (up to 30% in populations with less than 100,000 inhabitants).
On the contrary, in Spain, the bidding system generates a significant reduction in the maximum rates, also guaranteeing high quality and safety standards.
Service, quality, safety and employment, in the spotlight
Since the opening of the German market, the number of routes has increased reaching its maximum in 2015. However, since that date, when this operator begins to dominate the market, a 63% decrease in the routes served, with the consequent reduction of alternatives for the user. Likewise, very low frequency is offered in populations below 200,000 inhabitants and a zero or residual service in populations of less than 100,000 inhabitants, which in Spain is more than 99% of the populations.
In Spain, on the contrary, it is ensured that practically all of the country's locations have stable passenger transport service, regardless of their profitability. Thus, the system is based on the economic balance of contracts, ensuring that routes and low demand traffic are benefited by other more profitable routes.
Regarding the quality, the valuation by the users of the transport services by coach in Spain is far superior to that of Germany and France. According to the Eurobarometer of 2017, Spain is the second country in the European Union where users value their services better (83% of users consider them to be good or very good, while in Germany it is 73% and in France 60%) The Spanish score is also better in terms of punctuality, reliability, comfort, as well as in frequency of services.
And is that the regular service tenders in Spain are based on the integral improvement of the public service, whose conditions are subject to improvements by bidders. Thus, the contracts awarded include the latest advances in fleet safety and comfort, on-board entertainment, hiring and driver training, operator management and efficiency, among others.