The Croatian Competition Agency dismissed the initiative of Auto poduzeće Z. from Imotski for the establishment of abuse of a dominant position by Autobusni kolodvor Split
The complainant stated in the initiative that it has been discriminated by Autobusni kolodvor Split (Bus Station Split) by the employees of this bus station who allegedly give misleading information about the operation of its busses, particularly on the bus route Split – Zagreb to the passengers who buy the bus tickets at the ticket office. As the complainant stated, the object of such discriminating behaviour is to the advantage of its competitor, the bus operator Promet Makarska that is at the same time the owner of Autobusni kolodvor Split.
Auto poduzeće Z. pointed out that it turned to Autobusni kolodvor Split on several occasions and complained about the discrimination, of which it also informed the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure.
After having carried out the preliminary market investigation the CCA found that Autobusni kolodvor Split has not withheld information about the bus schedules of the bus operators that are competing undertakings to the undertaking Promet Makarska to the extent that would indicate abuse of a dominant position.
In spite of the fact that the employees in the ticket office might have favoured Promet Makarska when they sold the bus tickets, such behaviour by itself does not necessarily constitute potential abuse. Namely, passengers do not get information and buy tickets exclusively in the ticket office but also on the phone, on-line or at the bus station, whereas the bus tickets can also be bought through other sales channels, including the direct purchase in the bus.
In addition, when buying a bus ticket in the ticket office a passenger can ignore the possible suggestions by the employee in the ticket office and buy a ticket of any other competing bus operator.
Possible individual cases of misleading information that can be obtained from the employees in the ticket office may indicate an infringement of the Road Transport Act whose application falls under the scrutiny of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure, while the inspections are carried out by the Road Transport Inspection. Therefore, such cases should be reported to the competent ministry that is solely empowered to investigate such behaviour and impose sanctions.
However, although the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure is in charge in such cases, the CCA has in the past twenty years received a number of similar initiatives of bus operators asking for protection from the behaviour of the owners of bus stations that are at the same time their competitors as bus operators.
Namely, in accordance with the provisions of the Road Transport Act the bus stations must be open for all bus operators under the same conditions because of the fact that bus operators are under the law required to stop at any bus station in the interest of the passengers.
Thus, the CCA has been repeatedly calling the attention of the undertakings that are at the same time bus station owners and bus operators to operate the bus stations with special care so as to provide bus station services under equal conditions to the competing bus operators.
Finally, it must be stated that this is not a typically Croatian problem. The practice in this area indicates that there are also some radical solutions that, with the view to avoiding any abuse, and protecting the interest of the users of the bus transportation services, ban under the law any controlling ownership ties with the bus stations.