THE German Federal Cartel Office has reached a preliminary conclusion that German Rail’s (DB) behaviour towards third-party ticketing and journey planning providers, such as those selling tickets online, constitutes an abuse of market power.

The cartel office says that access to traffic data is essential when booking and organising journeys that include multiple modes, but DB has so far reserved this data for itself and a few selected service providers such as Google. DB has also imposed bans on providers advertising services that include rail, as well as offering discounts and receiving commission when processing ticket sales on behalf of DB.

“According to our preliminary examination result, DB, which is vertically integrated from network operation to ticket sales, is the dominant transport company on the rail market in Germany,” says Federal Cartel Office president, Mr Andreas Mundt.

“Therefore, DB is subject to abuse control under cartel law and has special obligations towards third parties, such as mobility service providers. Many of these mobility services are implausible without the involvement of DB. Therefore, we are of the opinion that the mobility providers are entitled, for example, to the railway’s traffic data such as delays or train cancellations. Their business models cannot work otherwise.

“We also have concerns about a number of DB’s contractual clauses that can hinder the mobility platforms as online partners of DB. We don’t want a single company to dominate the market in the long term and innovative mobility providers to be stymied.”

Under an investigation into DB launched at the end of 2019, the cartel office has found that on the one hand, DB has a strong market platform with its and DB Navigator sales platforms, and provides its own cross-modal platforms that offer tickets for third parties including more than 50 transport associations. On the other hand, DB also has the opportunity as the leading rail company to control the use of rail in other providers’ offers.

Specifically, the cartel office has found:

  • DB prohibits its contractual partners from advertising their full range of products on search engines as well as in app stores and on social networks
  • DB’s online partners are obliged to refrain from discount promotions, bonus point or cashback programmes when selling rail tickets, while DB promotes its own offers using these means, and
  • while many providers manage the booking and payment processing on behalf of DB when selling tickets, the cartel office is examining whether DB, due to its market power, can dictate that they do not receive any commission for doing so.

The cartel office says the restrictions on competition also affect other transport providers, as mobility platforms can be an important channel to increase their reach and attract demand. If passengers are directly or indirectly pushed to use DB’s channels, it can become more difficult for other transport providers to attract passengers, further entrenching DB’s market position.

DB and the online ticketing and journey planning providers have been invited to comment on the preliminary results of the proceedings.