Cheap buses provide competition to trains for intercity and long-distance travel in Germany. Coaches are often slower but much cheaper than railways.
Long-distance and intercity bus travel has finally become legal in Germany from the start of 2013. New companies such as MeinFernbus and Flixbus are already providing competition to the existing Berlin Linien Bus and German Railways (Deutsche Bahn). While established giants such as the ADAC and Deutsche Post are still studying the market, smaller companies are already operating on various routes throughout Germany and neighboring countries. The bus network is expanding almost weekly at the moment.
Long-Distance Intercity Bus Travel in Germany
Up to 2013, bus services in Germany were mostly illegal between city centers otherwise served by railways. This 1930s law finally made way to allow buses to provide competition to the railways. Buses may be slower and less comfortable than trains but in many cases, especially if not booked in advance, much cheaper too.
Berlin has long been an exception to the regulation and not surprisingly has a wide network of bus services to the German capital. Berlin Linien Bus, owned by Deutsche Bahn, has cheap bus services from all parts of Germany. Deutsche Bahn, which is the largest operator of buses and not only trains in Germany, is almost certain to increase its domestic bus services.
The ADAC (automobile club) and Deutsche Post (post office) are studying the market and planning a nationwide network from 2014. However, by then they may well find the market a bit crowded by the bus services of nimbler competitors.
Deutsche Touring, which operated Eurolines cross-border bus services as well as the popular holiday route Romantic Road coaches, is also expected to rapidly increase its involvement in domestic bus routes in Germany.
New Intercity Bus Companies in Germany
The giants still studying the market will probably be surprised how fast others have moved to provide a network of intercity long-distance buses in Germany. Three newly established long-distance coach service providers in Germany are Flixbus (MeinFernbus was dropped from the name) and DeinBus.
These bus companies all follow basically the same model: tickets are sold primarily online, bus services are constantly being expanded, and growing mostly from southern to central Germany with plans to cover the whole country.
These new providers often use existing local and regional bus operators to run the actual busses, which thus may not always be painted in company colors.
For example, the Bohr bus services from Frankfurt Hahn Airport to Frankfurt am Main can now also be booked as a Flixbus or IC Bus ride. A major advantage for smaller bus companies working as partners with these national services is the information technology backup provided by dedicated online reservation services. While Bohr still only sells tickets on the bus, or from a ticket counter at the airport, the same bus ride can now be booked through Flixbus online to ensure payment is completed in advance by credit card and that a seat is available.
Long-Distance Buses vs. Trains in Germany
Standard prices on buses are generally 20 to 60% below the standard ticket prices on German Railways trains. Cancellation conditions are also more generous on the buses, although read the fine print here too.
Families with children under 14 years, who usually travel for free on Deutsche Bahn trains, should note that child (or seniors) discounts are generally not available on buses. Most seem to follow the “Ein Po, ein Preis” (One bum, one price) system. However, on German Railways own IC Buses the standard children under 15 travel for free is maintained. Specific seats cannot be reserved on buses but a seat is guaranteed for ticket bearers, something that is not the case on trains.
Services offered vary but thus far all allow at least one suitcase for free and often two. Some offer free wifi while drinks on board are similar to kiosk prices. Bus companies are also happy to point out that buses are greener and more environmentally friendly than trains, planes, or cars.
Special deals are available – sometimes tickets go for €1 – and price competition may well increase as services expand. One thing these buses cannot do is transport travelers for less than an hour or less than 50 km – here the official local transportation services maintain their state-subsidized monopolies.
The travel industry still debates whether intercity buses will provide real competition to Deutsche Bahn trains. Trains are faster and more comfortable with specials (Sparpreise) often available for travelers booking in advance or using a Bahncard. Prior to the liberalization of the long-distance bus market, trains accounted for 125 million annual travelers versus 2 million for coaches but 2013 statistics will certainly be different.
Some expect buses to attract a different clientele from trains – maybe younger or older travelers. The huge success of budget airlines in Germany clearly shows the German traveling public has an appetite for low ticket prices.
Just as with budget airlines, an all-encompassing national booking service for all buses is not available. However, Busliniensuche, a start-up by students from Karlsruhe, is making a valiant effort to at least provide the information and links to bus companies.