The Fernbus is not a competition for the train, it is enriching the market

Recently, I took my first long haul bus connection in Western Europe and was positively surprised. As I am sitting now in a ÖBB Railjet, heading from Austria towards Switzerland, I am reflecting on that experience, the pros and cons and what it could mean for the rail bound mass transportation.

Due to timing and, to be frank, also convenience, I recently decided to give the long haul bus connection a try.

The first impression was a very seamless and intuitive website, where I could book exactly the connection I was interested in. It seems that the respective operator had put a bit more thought in the online user experience than most major rail transport undertakers. The price for the connection I choose is about 20% of the price of a regular train ticket on the same route. The time the bus is supposed to take is about 30 minutes less (as I know that the train connection there is very bad).

When arriving at the pick-up location, it looks like a regular bus stop, no benches, no coffee to go, toilet or other amenities. Since there is not electronic arrival information, I check through the website when the bus will approximately arrive, with about a 5 minutes delay. Two others with some baggage are waiting with me, unfortunately I do not use this opportunity and investigate their reasons for taking this connection. The bus itself feels spacious, has wifi and all other necessary amenities. We easily catch up on the delay over the next few hours and the two additional stops and would have arrived in time if it was not for the congestion less than 1 km before my destination. Overall is the delay of 10 minutes for such a long journey quite ok.

Fostering customer centric service

One thing that became clear to me is, that rail transport undertakers can learn from the long haul bus how to improve their service provision in respect to customer experience in processes such as:

  • Booking and billing
  • Customer greeting
  • Provision of free internet connection
  • Connection starts and ends much closer to the actual destination

On the other side, trains also provide many other services not available on buses:

  • Provision of decent and fresh food
  • Comfort of being able to walk around on the train
  • Punctuality
  • Mass transport possibility

Slightly different market segments

For me it became also clear, that the long haul bus caters to a slightly different segment than the long haul train. Bus passengers seem to be much more price conscious and less punctuality focused. Many of them seem to be people who have not taken long haul train journeys but rather have shared a car-ride. In that sense, I believe that the long haul busses can reach places where a train is due to its much higher capacity no viable. This would give more people the possibility to not necessarily purchase a car, potentially benefiting public and shared transport as well as their budget and the environment.

While we are slowly but consistently rolling along the river, the snow covered mountain tops become less and less and the wide Rhine valley opens the area.

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