Budget long-distance coach services in France were busier than ever last year — with nearly half of passengers choosing Flixbus — but many run less than half full and operators have yet to declare profits.
The Arafer regulatory authority says there were 6.2million passengers last year, the first full year since former economics minister Emmanuel Macron, now presidential candidate, deregulated routes in August 2015 as part of a growth plan.
The industry is still not profitable and deeppocketed operators have been discounting tickets, with some journeys as cheap as €1 (86p). Turnover per passenger/km rose from €4 to €4.70 (£3.43 to £4.03) in the second half of 2016.
Flixbus, which acquired Stagecoach’s Megabus.com business in Europe last year, has 49% of the market. It has not disclosed financial data but says its most profitable route is between Paris and Le Mans, which runs at 90% capacity at weekends.
Second-placed Ouibus, owned by state railway SNCF, has 32%. It stopped publishing results after losing €24.8million (£21.3million) in 2013, but hopes to break even next year. It recently linked up with the Starshipper alliance of independent operators. Also reported to be losing money is Transdev’s third placed Eurolines-Isilines (19%).