Also: What’s going on in France with liberalising bus travel?
Welcome to Weekly on the move edition 15–43.
Spanish bus operators’ association Confebus hired private detectives to sue successful carpool service BlaBlaCar (last week on a Spanish newspaper). They demand fair competition, but the way bus routes are assigned in Spain does not specially encourage competition. Most bus routes were designed by the government long ago and different bus companies got the licenses to operate them. After years of mergers, licenses are now in the hands of a few operators, in a sector dominated by Alsa (owner of National Express in Britain). Actual competition only happens between buses and Renfe state railways — forcing trains to run less often. Now BlaBlaCar enters the game using the same super-sized motorway infrastructure that buses benefit from. The bus patronal’s reaction is to sue both Renfe and BlaBlaCar for unfaithful competition.
“Anyway, we’re better here than in a bus, aren’t we?” snaps French cartoonist Luison in a week with economy minister Emmanuel Macron. In an effort to show European political establishment that his government believes in de-regulation, Macron pushed a law that removes the previous ban for buses to run parallel to rail connections, to encourage competition between buses and trains. Private bus companies entered the game, forming a parallel network to state owned SNCF railways. Tickets are usually cheaper on buses but speed and quality of service is arguably better on trains. As a consequence some rail connections that were already weak (such as Bayonne-Toulouse) are now on the verge of collapse: with new competition from the bus and car-share schemes, these lines struggle to significantly get enough people in the trains — rail is cost effective when it carries high numbers of passengers— leading to the vicious circle of reduced frequencies and reduced affluence. In addition, this scenario makes a collaboration between bus and train — such as the one we see in Switzerland — more difficult than ever, as portrayed by the fact that SNCF’s very own OuiBus is competing against it’s own rail routes, like Paris-Lyon or Paris-London, instead of using buses to feed its greater capacity trains. Will the market somehow solve all the problems or is a clear vision of the future of transport in France needed, together with the laws required to make it a reality?
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