Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Coaches Lead the Baltic Inter-City Transit

Coaches are the most developed and popular mode of intercity public transport in Baltic States despite the lack of highways and expressways (especially in Latvia and Estonia). The recent public order change in Latvia show that coaches are pushing trains out of business. A number of trains were substituted with coaches in Riga – Liepaja, Ventspils, Renge, Gulbene routes - booth main and secondary city pairs. The trains have too big passenger capacity (or too less frequency), the intensive freight transit has notably slowed down passenger trains and reduced free rail capacity. Also the costumer service is outdated – no new train sets, no separate-level stations, no high platforms, no multimodal opportunities, no rain shelters at stations and so on. As the governments of the Baltic States allows train-coach competition (unlike France and Germany) coaches has logically proved to be the most economical choice in almost all examined Baltic city pairs. This analysis showed the power of coaches and I start to doubt if my earlier proposed Rail Baltica Domestic plan will ever be competitive with inter-city coaches. Diagram below shows the coach connections between twenty biggest cities in the Baltic States.

The busiest route is Riga – Jelgava with 77 one-way runs on the day analysed (March 26th). Latvia have more cities in Western par so Eastern part seems to be undeveloped, but in reality Eastern part have many smaller towns and more developed rail network. In Lithuania coach routes are dense and frequent between Vilnius, Kaunas, Siauliai, Panevezys, Alytus, Marijampole. Similar situation is in Estonia – the main city pars are well cowered. The only state where trains significantly influence coach network is Latvia: Riga to Daugavpils and Rezekne is served by trains trice and twice daily and the coach departures are not as frequent as it could be. The international routes involve Riga in almost all cases. Booth Rezekne and Daugavpils have just one-weekly coach service to Vilnius with is not showed on the map (runs on Saturtdays).

Possible Drop in Ticket Prices

The bar chart shows kilometer price on analysed routes (average by country on runs with pricing information available). The route length between cities was chosen by routing tool in GIS site and no additional entries in town centers adjacent to the main road and other route modifications are taken into account. The results are clear – Latvia have the cheapest domestic coach ticket prices while Lithuania the highest. I am not well informed about subsidy systems in Estonia and Lithuania but one thing is unclear – why the uncontrolled international services are cheaper then Lithuanian domestic services. Latvian domestic coach routes are government regulated and subsidased ant the ticket prices are kept low.

In a few months a new Eurolines brand – Simple Express – is to start Riga – Kaunas (with connection to Warsaw) and Riga - Tallinn routes at incredibly low ticket prices – €7 or €8  to Kaunas and €10.5 to Tallinn. Simple express service is cheaper than Latvian heavily subsidized domestic service and almost twice as cheaper than Lithuanian domestic service. The way Simple Express can provide so cheap fares is still unclear, but – if it is sustainable – this move will cut fares on international routes and maybe will make the governments to deregulate the domestic markets in order to benefit from real competition.

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