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Green light for long-distance buses in Germany

A new law has been approved by Germany's upper house that clears the way for companies to offer long-distance bus routes in the country. Previously, protections in place for Germany's rail network had prevented this.

The law approved by the German Bundesrat on Friday states that starting January 1, 2013, bus companies wanting to operate long-distance routes will be given the green light to do so.

For over 70 years, measures have been in place that protected Germany's national railway operator, Deutsche Bahn (DB), from long-distance bus competition. Previous long-distance bus routes were required to improve transport logistics and not merely provide competition for DB.

DB already runs its own long-distance bus service through a subsidiary.

Economically and environmentally sound

Now, the only restrictions placed on the bus companies is that the stops along a long-distance route must be at least 50 km (31 miles) or one hour of travel time apart. This stipulation is designed to protect local and regional public transportation companies. Exceptions to the rule may be made when there are no other local public transportation options.

German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer welcomed the Bundesrat's decision.

"We're freeing the long-distance bus market from shackles it has worn for decades," he said on Friday in Berlin, adding that the new bus routes would provide affordable and environmentally friendly options for travelers. "We expect that [the changed regulations] will provide attractive offers for consumers and a strong impulse for established companies as well as newer companies with innovative ideas."

Tickets for long-distance bus routes are generally cheaper than comparable train tickets.

Alexander Kirchner, the head of Germany's Rail and Traffic Union (EVG), was critical of the Bundesrat's decision. He said it was an "own-goal" against employment, competition, and transport services in general.

mz/ipj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)