European rail operators enter long-distance bus sector

3 Dec 2014 by Alex McWhirter

Train operator or bus company? That’s the question that must be asked of Germany’s Deutsche Bahn (DB) and France’s SNCF as both have now moved into the long-distance bus business.

SNCF’s iDBUS operates a growing number of routes with most radiating out of Paris. These operate within France itself and then internationally to Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.

Its buses are easily bookable using a dedicated website.

Ironically on the London-Paris run SNCF competes against Eurostar... yet SNCF is Eurostar’s majority shareholder.

But SNCF has found that the demand is there for its Paris-London bus services. Having started modestly a few years ago, iD buses now link London with Paris six times a day.

Even though the buses take eight or nine hours they have filled a market niche thanks to tickets costing as little as £20 one-way. After all, not everyone is in a rush to get to Paris and neither are they prepared to pay Eurostar prices.

It is true that Eurostar also has promotional fares. But the difference is that the latter are difficult if not impossible to obtain at short notice whereas the same problem does not exist with iDBUS.

Besides London-Paris there are iD buses operating overnight out of London to Brussels and Amsterdam.

But DB’s IC bus network is even more ambitious. Unlike SNCF’s iDBUS (which is separated from SNCF’s main website) the DB buses are bookable though although, for obvious reasons, DB does not overly promote them on its rail website.

Moreover like the rail services against whom they compete, DB’s IC buses arrive and depart from main railway stations. They even offer some some DB Railcard discounts.

Originally DB began running bus services as a cost-effective way to link areas of the former West Germany with parts of Eastern Europe whose rail infrastucture had been neglected during the Communist era.

But judging by recent expansion it would seem that DB’s buses have proved popular with the travelling public and so they have been expanded.

DB’s IC buses now operate various routes within Germany and well as further afield to Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland. In the case of the former Eastern Europe, they run to Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Croatia.

And they don’t operate out of back street bus stations. Chances are the IC buses will depart from main train stations and/or from airports.

The next development will be when IC buses link Dusseldorf to London. Initially this service will operate during the Festive period. But if popular it is bound to be extended.

Indeed one wonders if buses might take the place of DB’s once ambitious but now abandoned plans to run through ICE train services between Germany and London. (see news October 19, 2010).

So what’s in it for the business traveller ?

Well I am not suggesting anyone should save money by sitting for hours on a bus between major cities with a good rail or air service.

What I am suggesting is that the bus can be a feasble option on the route where the train service might be unacceptable or where air service is either unavailable or pricey.,

Alex McWhirter

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