Germany’s competition and anti-cartel authority have criticised Deutsche Bahn (DB), the state-owned rail provider, for what it called “anti-competitive” practices in its dealing with third-party mobility platforms (including rail comparison and integrated ticketing companies). 

The Bundeskartellamt has ordered DB to change certain practices and contractual clauses, including its bans on discounts and withholding commission payments. 

DB has denied the charges and responded by criticising the decision and announcing it will appeal. 

Bundeskartellamt president Andreas Mundt explained: “The services of third-party mobility platforms making integrated route planning possible for passengers are not conceivable without including Deutsche Bahn’s offers and traffic data. Deutsche Bahn is therefore subject to abuse control under competition law and has to fulfil special obligations towards rival platforms. 

“This specifically concerns data sharing, bans on advertising, vertical price specifications, far-reaching bans on discounts and the withholding of different commissions for third-party platforms. Without effective enforcement under competition law, the business models of mobility platforms cannot function in competition with Deutsche Bahn.” 

But in a strongly-worded statement, DB said the ruling went beyond demands for real-time traffic data and would amount to DB “subsidising” third-party platforms. 

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By GlobalData

“[The] decision now goes far beyond the original demands and would force DB to remunerate online platforms for the sale of DB tickets, even if this does not offer any added value for DB due to DB’s own very well-developed sales channels. The online platforms are often backed by well-funded major US banks, international asset management companies and funds. 

“In addition, the decision would also force DB to release its trademarked terms and sales channel designations such as ‘DB Navigator’ and ‘bahn.de’ for search engine marketing of the online platforms.

“As a result, customers searching for the term ‘bahn.de’, for example, may end up on the page of an online platform. This allows the platforms to steer customers away from DB channels to their own channels.” 

The company claimed the result of the demanded changes would result in higher ticket prices for passengers and less investment in the rail network. 

Mundt also explained the aim of the Bundeskartellamt was to allow innovation across the sector: “We want to prevent Deutsche Bahn from expanding its dominance in passenger rail transport also to future mobility markets and from holding back innovative mobility service providers in favour of its own business interests.” 

The decision is not final, and DB’s appeal will be heard at the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court. 

In March DB reported net losses for 2022, which represented growth compared to the Covid-19-affected 2021.