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French Competition Authority to boost long distance coach travel


French Competition Authority publishes report highlighting that the creation of long distance coach lines could create between 10,000 and 16,000 jobs and would complement TGV travel at a much lower cost.


28 February 2014 - Following a one year industry investigation, the French Competition Authority recently published a report highlighting that the creation of long distance coach lines could create between 10,000 and 16,000 jobs, with the advantage of complementing TGV travel at a much lower cost.


Long distance coach travel is “complementary” and far from being a threat to smaller French SNCF rail lines, according to the Competition Authority who favours the development of this transport mode, in order to offer more inland connections to travellers.


An excellent transport mode with a bad image


Coaches suffer from a bad image that needs rebranding so that passengers can benefit from its unexploited potential.


Former French Secretary of State in charge of Transport, Dominique Bussereau, commented, “Coaches have a bad stereotype…we are still stuck with this image of coaches from our childhood. Today, however, coaches should be compared to city buses” – an idea that was also confirmed in 2012 by then French Minister of Transport, Thierry Mariani.



Indeed, the stereotype of coaches as old-fashioned and dangerous is misplaced when compared to modern coaches, which now offer plenty of leg room, comfortable leather seats, free Wi-Fi and individual electric plugs to keep gadgets powered up.


However, the long distance coach market is being hampered by the SNCF’s fear of competition – a fear that the Competition Authority feels is unjustified. “They’re not at all the same customers. People who would willingly travel by coach, still wouldn’t have chosen to travel by train due to the costs”, said Bruno Lasserre, President of the Competition Authority.


While coach travel is undoubtedly not as fast as going by train, it has the bigger advantage of being more affordable. A coach ticket costs 50% less than a TGV ticket and, on average, 30% less than an InterCity ticket, according to the Competition Authority. Cost is clearly an issue for students, senior citizens and families with modest incomes where transport expenses account for 14% of household budgets.


However, despite the existing demand, “coaches are used for only 0.0005% of long distance travel in France, compared to 4% in Great Britain and 5% in Sweden”, highlighted Bruno Lasserre while presenting the conclusions from the year-long market study.


Legislative and infrastructural constraints


Long distance coach travel in France is experiencing very little growth due to a regulatory framework that imposes numerous commercial, practical and judicial constraints. Coach operators need advanced authorisation – often long and complex – and 40% of requests to open new service lines are refused by the State without real justifications.


Moreover, cabotage is not really helping as currently, inland connections in the same region are prohibited. The result is that a coach cannot provide a trip from Montpellier to Perpignan (Languedoc Roussillon region), nor from Bordeaux to Pau (Aquitaine region). The only solution for coach operators seeking to connect two French cities in the same region is if the vehicle crosses the French border into a neighbouring country and makes several stops between departure and destination. “This law is completely delusional. It means that you can take a coach from Paris to Bordeaux, but only if that coach is travelling from Paris to Madrid”, commented Dominique Bussereau.


This prohibits coach travel to many destinations, because in reality, how is it possible to add a connection between Caen and Brest through an international itinerary? And even in that case, cabotage cannot account for more than half of a coach company’s business, so it means having to refuse service to passengers, even if coaches have empty seats available.


“Coach lines from our childhood have disappeared and need to be redeveloped, as well as connections with the existing TER network”, stressed the Former French Secretary of State who advocates for larger liberalisation in the sector. “I think we are headed towards more competition in regions. Everything is starting to move and French citizens will once again see coaches as a real travel alternative.”


Green mobility to create more jobs


Some would argue that it is an environmental debate, but even there, the Competition Authority is against the idea that trains are greener than coaches, citing that 37% of interregional rail lines transport less than 12 passengers a day. “A Micheline Diesel train that operates half empty is more hazardous to the environment than a coach travelling at full capacity. You need to look at the emissions per transported passenger”, said Bruno Lasserre.


The Competition Authority considers it urgent to eliminate all constraints in order to allow coach travel to respond to current demand. “It would naturally stimulate growth and create anywhere between 10,000 and 16,000 jobs from now to 2020, an easy next step considering the benefits already offered by the French market”, concluded Mr Lasserre.


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