31 May, 2023

Cross-border public transport services


Raul Cazan, Mihai Stoica, Andrzej Ancygier, Olivia Waterton

This paper analyses the obstacles and solutions related to the provision of cross-border public transport (CBPT) between neighbouring EU countries, with the focus on borders between Poland and Lithuania, and between Romania and Hungary.

There are several key reforms which can occur at the EU level. The EU can offer green loans at preferential interest rates via the European Investment Bank (EIB) for national operators as well as new entrants. Additionally, the EU or the four governments can set up their own rolling stock pool.

For regional and some national operations, rolling stock is sometimes owned and leased out by the regional/national government (awarding authority) or a government-owned company, and this model can be scaled up to the regional or EU-wide level.

A key solution on the demand-side lies in a rail ticketing regulation that enables passengers to search and book rail tickets across Europe with one click, up to 9-12 months in advance, under the protection of passenger rights for the entire trip. The Commission stated that it will investigate an EU-wide VAT exemption for train tickets and put forward proposals next year that will make cross-border rail services more frequent.

The Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) for the trans-European transport networks (TEN-T) can be leveraged to support first and last-mile solutions, including multi- modal hubs, park and ride facilities and safe active infrastructure for walkers and cyclists. CEF stresses that TEN-T funding should also support public and collective transport infrastructure projects such as renovation of bus stations, or solutions to promote intermodal transport.

The railways are at the core of these developments. Expanding the TEN-T network requires urban nodes to play a bigger role. These nodes currently receive only 1% of CEF funding and need to be better defined so that they can be eligible for co-financing. Urban nodes are part of a broader network of connections, and supporting role nodes play a key role in active mobility and public transport and must be documented and supported.

Local authorities representing urban nodes around the two transborder areas should be routinely involved in meetings of the “corridor forums” of the TEN-T core network where they are located, most especially in Central and Eastern Europe. The European Commission should also better define investment that will be eligible in the urban nodes under the “railway lines” and “multimodal passenger hubs” priorities of CEF calls for proposals.

On the country level, the governments of Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Romania should:

  • help operators to order new sleeping cars
  • reduce track access charges to direct costs levels
  • oblige major national rail operators to sell tickets on their websites
  • ensure non-discriminatory access to tracks
  • implement strategic European coordination with sufficient mandates and resources