Low-cost buses would be ‘welcome shock’ to Swiss transport

Meierhans called for a discussion on liberalising the Swiss transport sector, citing Germany, Austria and Italy as examples. Keystone

Price watchdog Stefan Meierhans has expressed his support for the arrival in Switzerland of low-cost bus services from abroad.

This content was published on October 31, 2016 - 19:53 and agencies

In an interview with Swiss public radio, RTS, on Monday, Meierhans, of the federal cost oversight office, said more competition is needed in Switzerland to make travel more accessible.

“The best price watchdog is competition that also works in domains which, until now, have always had monopolies,” he said.

Meierhans believes that, in principle, low-cost, long-distance bus services like those provided by German company Flixbus could be a “welcome shock” for the Swiss Federal Railway and other rail companies.

The federal cost oversight office recently concluded an investigation that found that rail transport has been steadily becoming more expensive than driving in Switzerland, with costs rising 45% since the 1990s. For Meierhans, offering low-cost bus services in Switzerland is important for providing better access to transportation, as well as a wider range of more affordable options for passengers.

Legal troubles

Currently, it is illegal in Switzerland for a foreign company to transport goods or passengers between locations within the country – a practice known as cabotage.

Just last week, Flixbus opened new line of service linking Lyon, France with Constance, Germany via Geneva, Bern and Zurich for CHF20 ($20). Proceedings have already been opened against the company by the Swiss transportation ministry for suspected cabotage, which could be a problem if Swiss passengers use the route to travel only between the Swiss cities, rather than getting off the bus in either France or Germany.

“This development, legal or not, is a reality,” Meierhans said, adding that offering cheaper tickets to compete with such companies would also be a sure way to fill empty seats on Swiss transportation.

“This is an awakening for Swiss transport companies, which have a 20% utilisation rate, meaning four of five seats in a bus or train are unoccupied – that's why it's so expensive!” he said.

Responding to the fact that critics still see such transportation market newcomers as unfair competition, Meierhans compared the situation to the competition between taxis and Uber – another controversial turf war in the Swiss transportation market.

“We try to create opportunities for more competition, while still ensuring that the framework conditions are the same for all who participate in a market,” he said.

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