While Europe has had buses for well over a century, and intercity lines had their share in some countries, on the continent as a whole, intercity buses were long overshadowed by railways. This has started to change in the 2010s, when several intercity bus companies have expanded services across the continent.
Today, bus travel is often the cheapest mode of transportation between cities. Comfort has improved greatly on 21st century buses, with air conditioning and wifi on board. However, buses mostly compete on price as they can’t even hope to begin to compete on speed with high-speed rail or air travel, and legroom is usually rather limited compared to trains. Thus far, no operator has tried for the “luxury bus” segment that can be seen for example in Mexico.
For a long time buses in Europe were subject mostly to national regulation and an international market didn’t exist or only as a small niche. Apart from local and city buses run by or on behalf of local government, there were “railway buses” or “rail replacement” bus in many places that duplicated former rail lines. Postal services also ran some buses, and in Scandinavia there are still places that get their mail on the same vehicle that serves as the bus link to the outside world. Spain, the United Kingdom, and the former Yugoslavia have had extensive intercity coach networks for decades, but the situation was different across much of the rest of the continent. For logical reasons there was no desire for those state-run enterprises who held a monopoly or something close to it on bus travel to compete with the – similarly state run – railways along lines where rail service existed. Thus only secondary routes – if that – were served in many countries. However, in the 2010s, France, Germany, Italy and the EU deregulated the market, allowing private entrants to compete with railways on international routes. Other countries have similarly taken first steps in this direction or have announced plans to that effect.
- Alsa International is a company centred on Spain with services to 14 other European countries and Morocco
- Eurolines predates the opening of the French and German domestic markets and as such has a presence in many countries, though distances between stops tend to be longer and few small and mid-size cities are served
- Flixbus is a German company which dominates the domestic market and has a strong presence in most of Germany’s neighbours.
- Ouibus is operated by French rail company SNCF, with lines to most of France’s neighbours.
- Regiojet, also operating under the name Student Agency is a Czech company that operates an extensive network of buses and some trains in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and is expanding its bus service into most of Europe
There are also many regional companies.
The market looks quite different in different parts of the continent. While intercity services were nearly non-existent in France and Germany until 2010, due to the regulation, coaches were and still are the main mode of transport e.g. in the Balkans and in the north of the Nordic countries.