Is Continued Liberalisation Key to Croatian Bus Industry Comeback?

Lauren Simmonds

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As Poslovni Dnevnik/Darko Bicak writes, the economic consequences of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic have been most strongly felt by companies in the services sector, especially passenger carriers, as there is neither interest in travelling at all, nor are many countries allowing anything but essential domestic or international travel.

As a result, many parts of Croatia, especially rural areas, are almost completely cut off from larger centres and the rest of the country.

In order to make the situation more bearable, let’s not forget that in a few months there will be local elections in which new mayors and county prefects will be elected, and the Croatian Association of Counties (HZZ) has launched an initiative to help the Croatian bus industry and regular bus carriers maintain their intercity lines.

The Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure is required to play a more proactive role and change the existing regulations in order to be able to pass more money through multiple models as an incentive to the Croatian busy industry and their regular carriers.

One of the loudest among them is Darko Koren, prefect of Koprivnica-Krizevci County, who says that the situation with transport in their area has heated up.

“We’re in constant conversation with carriers who are going through difficult times due to the pandemic-dominated circumstances and have to cancel lines, especially those from rural areas due to economic unprofitability. Their sustainability is mostly based on the transport of students, which has now been reduced, and you know that, for example, Koprivnica-Krizevci County leads in Croatia in terms of co-financing transport with about four million kuna per year. It’s time to finally resolve this issue,” Koren said.

The problem of school transportation

A special problem lies with school transport because the contracts between the counties and the Croatian bus industry, ie their carriers for this school year were supposed to be signed by November the 30th last year, but due to the coronavirus pandemic it was all postponed.

“Concrete matters haven’t yet been resolved. Carriers are now in difficult situations. They’ve been maintaining unprofitable lines for years, they’re recording big losses, it’s getting harder. I hope that we will have it resolved very soon,” said Hrvoje Mestrovic, President of the Association of Public Bus Operators.

Perhaps the biggest problem lies with the previously wildly popular FlixBus platform, which is mainly focused on international travel – back in pre-pandemic 2019 they reported 62 million passengers, of which 1.4 million were in Croatia, and last year it was halved to just 30 million, mostly in Europe, with far greater decline seen in this country.

Now they say that as a vital part of the mobility sector, it is in their interest to provide all its users with an easily accessible, safe and sustainable mode of transport and therefore support all efforts of the Croatian Government and science to combat the pandemic and speed up economic recovery.”As part of the transport industry, especially because our business model is based on a partnership with many Croatian carriers, we share the same challenges with them.

Accordingly, we support all initiatives in which, in addition to public health, the jobs of both employees in the transport industry and all employees in Croatia are protected. We welcome any action aimed at finding a quality solution to preserve vitality and enable the recovery of the Croatian bus industry. However, it’s important to point out that this crisis has shown up all the shortcomings of the closed market and clearly indicated that for the recovery of the Croatian bus industry it’s necessary to continue the liberalisation process and develop passenger transport so as to ensure equal conditions for all carriers,” stated Ante Grbesa, director of the FlixBus CEE South region.

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