“INTERCITY AND LONG-DISTANCE BUS A COMMENT ON AN EARLY VERSION.
COACH REGULAR LINES” IRU WORKING PAPER.
Paolo Beria (with Raffaele Grimaldi) DiAP – Politecnico di Milano, Italy In this note we make some comments and suggestions on some issues presented in the IRU working paper “Intercity and Long-Distance Bus and Coach Regular Lines”, based on a first draft version of the paper. In the second part of the note we briefly discuss the expected demand of intercity coaches and give some policy indications.
A COMMENT ON THE PAPER
PUBLIC VISIBILITY OF LONG DISTANCE COACH SERVICES
We strongly agree that the existence of long distance coach services is still weakly perceived by people in many EU countries, and we think communication to be a key factor in the future development of the industry. Paradoxically, the effort in this field can be limited and the outcome huge, but effective communication is made difficult by the fragmentation of the firms and their dimension. Journey planners are less and less “niche” instruments, available only to experienced internet users. In this sense, the air sector experience thanks to its intrinsic interoperability is leading other modes. Rail is slowly adapting. Many strategies might be developed to improve the visibility of coach services, and the development of a multi-modal EU journey planner would be a much welcomed and effective initiative. However we think that, before waiting for someone else to do it, it would be quicker for the industry to build itself a comprehensive search engine with all the coach supply. This will let people perceive the whole bus network of services as unique, just as it happens now for the air transport. We understand that, this being in many countries an industry moving from former monopolies to competition, many firms might not be willing to give away some informative advantage, but we think IRU and national associations could play a role in promoting this activities and explaining the mid-long term benefits of an increased visibility to their members. To cope with this, as a third option, the associations could help single firms, on a voluntary basis, to adopt a standard format to release data on their supply. These standards already exist (for example GTFS1) and should only be promoted among firms. Once provided, data is easily introduced into the most commonly used tools to plan personal mobility (Google Transit, etc.), as it happened for many other public services. Once that early comers start this practice, also their competitors will follow, if adequate support is provided. 1. EU journey planner: centralized, multimodal tool, potentially extremely effective. But complex, costly, long and not fully manageable by the industry. 2. IRU journey planner: centralized, but not multimodal. Less effective than the European one, but decided and implemented by IRU without waiting for others support. 3. Open journey planners: IRU (& national associations) help single firms, on a voluntary basis, to adopt a standard format to release data on their supply. Data is included in existing third part journey planners (Google Transit, but also air search engines as already happens for some trains).
General Transit Feed Specification: https://developers.google.com/transit/gtfs/
TERMINALS AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATIONS
Terminals represent a core issue for coach transport, even if we must recognize that the possibility to make many kerbside stops (even on demand) represents one of the very strength of road transport with respect to other transport modes, increasing geographical coverage and providing better door-to-door links. This characteristic, where existing, must not be lost in favour of a standardised “intercity model”. In fact, we think that the “intercity model”, i.e. a regular, fast and frequent connection between some cities and using main terminals is not the only type of service (even if it is the right one in some contexts). Bus is the best option to quickly and reliably connect cities with dispersed villages of a region. In this case, terminals are, paradoxically, not needed: bus can easily stop frequently at destination, nearly reaching a “terminal-to-door” system. What is needed is a good communication and the reliability of the service (fixed main stops, constancy of services, availability of information with all media: from the real time smartphone to the timetable in the neighbourhood shop). Going back to intercity services and their terminals, it is however clear that some (usually local) public administrations don’t rightly perceive the benefits of having good intermodal terminals in strategic positions in the city and tend to push coach terminals outside city centres, by claiming to ease congestion and air pollution and ignoring the lost benefits of good coach connections. Coachway interchanges right outside cities, if well connected with public transport to the city centre and close to major road infrastructures, might represent a good compromise – easing integration in the city and allowing faster and cheaper and more reliable connections by avoiding the more congested central city roads. Moreover this solution might be considered also when city terminals already exist. hostility
(terminals outside city centres, claiming to reduce congestion)
(terminals as a part of multimodal interchange stations)
expulsion Marginality Problems for remaining users Progressive loss of users
coachway interchanges Lower accessibilty and need for effective linking infrastructures Marginality and lower visibility Higher commercial speeds
city terminals Long diversion times Higher visibility Possibly difficult integration with the city structure
Easier integration in the city
The possibility of financing high quality multimodal terminal using European funds would obviously be much welcomed, in particular it might also help the industry to show local administrations on the full benefits of multimodal terminals. The benefit of being included in the European planning, and TEN in particular, is however not only economic: the “label” of European corridor, extensively used to push in front of public opinion some purely national infrastructures, could be a powerful source of legitimating for coach services. Moreover if this has no or limited cost for public budget.
COACH TRANSPORT AND THE EU TRANSPORT POLICY
We agree that EU transport policy is neglecting the role of coaches in intercity mobility, by concentrating its attention in supporting only rail, maritime and partially air transport. However, a sound transport policy aiming at a global sustainability – in its three aspects: economical, social and environmental – should evaluate the best mode mix using cost-benefit analyses: we believe that, if correctly considering the costs and the benefits, coach transport would be given a more significant role in such a framework. This vision is
reinforced by transport literature, suggesting that in countries where competition in long distance services among bus and rail companies has been allowed, the overall usage of public transport has increased and better bus and coach services generated new users which are mostly diverted from cars, rather than subtracting them from the rail.2 This fact lays in the general problem of the role given to coach transport by national (with few counterexamples) and European administrations. Bus is often seen as a corollary or, at best, as a support mode for rail. This might be a good strategy for regional integrated transport networks. But when looking at the long distance, the picture changes. A healthy competition, as we will discuss later, is capable of really improving services and prices for both coach and rail users. When this is not feasible (because of various reasons), a different integration can be applied: buses must be not only “feeder” of rail, but also substitutes of rail PSOs on routes with low demand density, which are no more sustainable in a period of public budget constraints.
WHICH PERSPECTIVES FOR THE FUTURE?
A discussion on demand must be clearly separated between existing services (the “rail ancillary” ones and the historical ones) and possible new services in competition with rail. Italy is an exceptionally clarifying example of this dichotomy. Italian coach market has a long tradition in the private sector and an important (sometimes essential) role on some relationships. These are the North-South and Rome-South routes (that supported ancient internal immigration and now serve workers and students), plus a role on a super-regional scale inside the Centre and inside the South, because of the structural weakness of rail transport. On these routes, coach market is fully consolidated and perfectly capable to compete with rail even if not benefiting of PSOs. In this case liberalisation is capable of generating new demand thanks to better services and better marketing and thanks to the slow but ongoing “gentrification” of users (from elderly/students to general users, including tourists). A second market may exist in Italy, but it is only potential. It is the market now in the hands of rail transport on the main routes (e.g. across Northern Italy or between northern cities and Rome). Here coaches do not exist and must catch rail demand or car demand that does not use rail for capillarity, convenience or price reasons. In our opinion the main results could come from the low cost segment between main cities, as rail is becoming more and more expensive (especially if not booked in advance enough), but the capability of enterprises might invent further types of services (e.g. direct buses from small cities to main cities). A third opportunity might come from the reconfiguration of rail PSO, where existing. The Italian State spends 250 M€ for subsidized long distance trains (approx. 7 billions paxkm/year, as estimated by rail incumbent). Some of these routes must be served with rail because of density. But some others might be totally reconsidered and supplied, again under PSO conditions, with a mix of buses, rail and air transport. This could probably save money or improve services at the same cost. Recently some night trains have been cut due to lack of money (but soon reintroduced partially) and in the meantime the bus industry easily covered the gap in supply, at no public cost.
See, for example: Van De Velde D. (2009), Long-Distance Bus Services in Europe: Concessions or Free Market?, Discussion Paper No. 2009-21, Joint Transport Research Centre, ITF-OECD.
In conclusion, an estimation of potential demand for the industry is not possible now without a model (and it would be difficult even so) and heavily depends on initial conditions. However, at least three totally different sub-markets exist and must be supported differently.
(SOME) PRIORITIES AND POLICY ACTIONS 1. One of the main strengths of coach industry in transport policies is that, today, no relevant subsidies to coaches exist. This specificity must be used to enforce the position towards other modes and in this sense the request for extra resources could be not strategic. At the same time, in some cases buses could allow money savings compared to rail PSOs. It is the only case in which I suggest that lobbing for extra-resources could be worthwhile.3 2. The main point that needs the industry to concentrate on is the concept of Universal Service. It is not written in laws, but many policy makers confuse in their mind the “positive” concept of Universal Service with that of Rail Universal Service, which is clearly a nonsense. The right must be to mobility (or to quality mobility), not to rail mobility. This concept must be strengthened in any possible way and air sector could be an ally in some cases. Overcoming the rhetoric of rail, that allowed the EU and States to spend billions on weird and weak long distance corridors when air was already revolutioning the mobility of Europeans eroding demand to trains, is an essential starting point to start any policy in favour of coaches. The point to be strengthened is that rail has an important and increasing role in specific contexts, mainly those with actual (or potential) high density of demand. But where demand is sparse in origins and/or destinations, rail becomes ineffective and expensive. This is the context of PSOs in which bus must play a role. To make this possible, the industry must be active in showing the financial benefits of a different form of PSOs on some routes, stimulating governments thanks to the possibility of saving money of treasuries and citizens. 3. In terms of regulation, an homogenization/simplification of normative is useful to help foreign investors to enter in other markets despite the disadvantage of knowledge of the legislative context. At the same time, some forms of control to prevent disruptive competition could be introduced: competition should not kill both the incumbent and the newcomer. It is likely that in many contexts (typically, where rail is dominant) there is enough space for all the potential efficient players. In general, the potential market in some countries is so large that newcomers can often start with new routes without influencing the incumbents. In this sense, any legislative constraint must be removed. When true competition will be more mature (i.e. when all the firms have had the time to potentially evolve, if capable to do that) a full competition in the market will truly evidence the best players. In the air industry, the newcomers were initially small compared to incumbents, some of which survived and evolved even if starting from a totally inefficient situation. Others, the “unfittest”, would have had no chances anyway.
Environmental and “comfort” counterarguments can be easily replied, being the first true but very weak and the second irrelevant since demand for these services exist, especially if at low price.
Published on Sep 10, 2012
This note provides comments and suggestions on some issues presented in the IRU working paper “Intercity and Long-Distance Bus and Coach Re...