A Deutsche Bahn IC Bus service on the Nürnberg-Mannheim route, Germany (image by Mef.ellingen).
With rail operators now entering the bus business, let’s take a look at how long-distance coach travel stacks up against the train on a key route in Germany.
Late last year, Deutsche Bahn (DB) launched a new InterCity rail service linking two important cities in the south of the country: Freiburg (in Baden-Württemberg) and Munich (in Bavaria). It was a renaissance of the old Baden-Kurier service which linked the two cities in the late 1980s and 1990s.
The InterCity from Freiburg to Munich makes 11 stops along the way. The service runs six times a week in each direction. The revival of the Baden-Kurier was good cause for cheer. But, also late last year, DB launched a new express coach route between the same two cities — with just one stop along the way. The coaches run under the new IC Bus brand which DB is actively promoting.
The air-conditioned coach has Wi-Fi, and that’s something you’ll not find on the InterCity train. There are 32 coaches each week from Freiburg to Munich, so the frequency gives the road service a strong edge over the train. The downside is that the coach takes about ten minutes longer than the train. But who worries about an extra 10 minutes on a journey of almost five hours?
Looking at prices for the coming month (ie. for August 2014), the one-way train fare from Freiburg to Munich on the Baden-Kurier is normally €79. There are two days on which a €69 fare is offered, and two days when an even cheaper €59 fare is available.
By contrast, the coach fare is normally €19. Real bargain hunters will find that, on a handful of days next month, a €9 fare is there for the taking.
Any bets on how much longer the Baden-Kurier train service will survive? This is a new rail service facing pretty fierce competition from a coach service run by the very same operator as the train.
Similar tales might be told of other long-distance coach services run by DB. Frequency on DB’s IC Bus route from Berlin to Wroclaw has recently increased from one to three services per day. The coaches undercut the time taken by the once-daily train. No surprise, perhaps, that now there’s talk of cutting the train service altogether. It would mean the demise of another cross-border EuroCity rail service. And it would be a big blow for those who, like us, actually prefer travelling by train to sitting on a coach (even if the coach is run by a rail operator).