A few years ago, long-distance buses were banned in Germany. You want to know how the market liberalization came about? Then you are exactly right here - because the founders of DeinBus.de are jointly responsible. This is the story and how the long-distance bus came to Germany.
Good evening, here is the news. Berlin: By a large majority, the government decided that long-distance buses will be banned immediately. Deutsche Bahn receives a monopoly on all routes over 50 kilometers. All people who want to travel, should take the train for this. Although long-distance buses are considered to be environmentally friendly and safe, the state-owned train should be better protected against competition.
Sounds like a nightmare for you? Do you have sometimes want to travel home, to the family or to your long-distance relationship? You can not find a suitable ride on carsharing. Since the long-distance buses no longer exist, you depend on the train. Well, go to www.bahn.de and quickly book a train ... But what's up, the same route, which has always cost 20 euros with the bus, now costs 130 euros?
Not everything was better in the old days! In fact, it was not long ago that long-distance buses were banned in Germany. The founders of DeinBus.de were still students at the university. We regularly got annoyed about the horrendous rail prices. About missed connections. About train cancellations. About a missing alternative.
During our semester abroad a few years ago we drove for the first time with a long-distance bus. We were excited. The buses were on time. Comfortable. The prices were incredibly cheap. Very different from Deutsche Bahn. Something was missing in Germany, we thought. What a great business idea, we thought too!
We could not have imagined how rocky the road would become.
Back in Germany after our semester abroit, we missed the greyhounds a lot. We wondered why the long-distance bus in Germany is basically non-existent. That's why we went looking for an answer.
During out investigation, we came across an old law from 1934. The Passenger Transport Act ("PbefG") prevented the operation of long-distance buses for nearly 80 years. The deeper we dived into the law, the more exciting it became.
§ 13 paragraph 2 PbefG regulated that long-distance buses were not allowed to drive if ...
"a) the traffic with the existing means of transport can be served satisfactorily
(b) the requested route is already served by existing undertakings or railways"
In plain English: Deutsche Bahn already serves every route, meaning that no route with long-distance buses could be added.
The age-old law secured the state-owned company Deutsche Bahn, creating a defacto monopoloy. It prohibited traffic by long-distance buses. Thus, there was no competition, no alternative to the train. In the economics seminar at the university we heard of "monopoly pensions": The railway took higher prices. Why? Because it could. Straight from our wallet.
We did not want to accept that. As a German saying goes: Where there is a will, there is a way!
We read the laws, rolled them, took them with us to the bed and to parties - the idea of long-distance buses in Germany did not let us go. We searched until we found a gap in the law. If a group rented a bus, they could go where they wanted. It was no "regular service" but "occasional services". And the passage of "occasional traffic" is subject to far fewer restrictions.
We cheated the law. For who could forbid you to rent a bus and organize riders? Nobody. In short, we were nothing more than a carpool with buses. All we had to do was worry about finding many people that wanted to go from one city to another. A perfect job for the internet!
We made a website where everyone could start a tour driving a certain route. Others could then join this group. As soon as there were enough riders, the trip took place. We organized a coach and each participant of the trip paid a share of the travel costs. Theoretically we were able to make dozens of daily trips between every imaginable place in Germany.
On the 4th of December 2009 the time had come: The very first "DeinBus" drove from Frankfurt to Cologne. Each passenger paid 12.50 euros. The alternative bus was enthusiastically accepted. Every week more and more groups got together on more and more routes. And the ride by bus was much cheaper than by train. Everybody loved the bus call center!
A message came from the court with a mail from Deutsche Bahn.
Surely, the legal department of the Deutsche Bahn couldn't believe what they saw when they heard of DeinBus.de and our bus driving center. But what could they do against the huge 3-man competition from Offenbach? Deutsche Bahn saw only one way: The low-priced bus connections should be forbidden in court. Railway attorneys argued that our bus call center needed a permit, which we did not have.
We spent a long time studying the law, applying for all the necessary permits and knew that we were doing nothing that was forbidden. Right now the Bus carsharing was really successful and gained more passengers week by week. We had already put a lot of money and sweat in our small company. Deutsche Bahn was a powerful opponent. Our lifeblood, body and soul hung on our bus project - everything was threatened. The nerves were blank.
In court, the judges followed our argument and found our concept to be law-abiding. So the buses could continue to roll and make Germany's passengers happy with convenient and comfortable mobility. We do not know what the atmosphere was in the Deutsche Bahn HQ after the verdict was pronounced. Anyway, our mood in front of Frankfurt's district court was more than perfect.
With the verdict, we did not only defeat the monopoly of Deutsche Bahn with clever arguments about our business model in court. Many politicians from Berlin called or even visited us during this time. They, too, recognized that the long-distance bus could be an alternative for many people to travel. We fought to make the long-distance bus no longer an exception, but a legal one. Berlin acted. In September 2012, the parties of the CDU / CSU, FDP, SPD and Alliance 90 / The Greens agreed on a compromise to rewrite the Passenger Transport Act.
On 1 January 2013, the new law came into force. From now on it said: Freedom for the long-distance bus in Germany. The champagne corks popped up in our office! We developed new routes and timetables, always with a view to complying with all social regulations and especially the driving and rest periods. We requested permits for new routes. More and more buses took to the streets. Driver trainings were held. A new booking system was developed and introduced. The buses were equipped with LTE-WiFi.
A new market emerged. The range of long distance bus travel increased substantially. Our dream came true: travelers have alternatives, they could choose between train, bus, car, bike, hot air balloon or jet ski.
For our friend and Co-founder Ingo, the beginning of 2014 marked a new stop: Paris! Ingo fulfilled a long-awaited dream. He went back to university for further studies. We rejoiced with him but missed Ingo as part of our active team. But even in 2014 there was no time to breathe. New operators shot up like mushrooms, many with millionaire investors and corporations in the back.
The one entering the market first is also the first to go out of breath. As a pioneer of the first hour and without financially strong investors in the background, it became increasingly difficult to prevail over the financially strong competition. A good product and solid business was not enough on its own.
The fight for passengers became a tough price war. The low prices in the market broke the revenue, many routes were offered for four or five euros. At these prices, no operator was profitable. Our competitors were able to offset their losses with thick purses. But for us, the air to breathe was too thin.
At the beginning of November, we had to file for bankruptcy. Not a simple step for the entire DeinBus.de crew. One more time DeinBus.de was close to being out. For almost two months, we worked with our provisional bankruptcy trustee to rescue DeinBus.de. Shortly before Christmas, 22.12.2014, the redeeming message reached us: An investor was found. The rescuer was even a DeinBus.de fan who often drove with us. He took over the company with all its employees, meaning that the operation would continue as usual, much to the delight of our passengers. It sounds like a Christmas tale, and that's it. Since 2015, the eventful story of DeinBus.de continues to be written!