The aim of the Euroregion is to improve the cross-border mobility of citizens. In order to achieve that, it is necessary to provide travellers with more information, improve links between the different rail services, put into practice studies relating to the Basque Y network, and from 2014 onwards, develop bus transport. As we await the end of the rupture to rail services, the bus represents an efficient and affordable service that is valued by users.
Different ways of using the bus
South of the border, use of buses is quite frequent, even though there are lots of efficient rail network services. Each form of transport has its importance depending on the area, the departure points and destinations, as well as the target audience. In Gipuzkoa, the public network of interurban buses, Lurraldebuses, is very efficient and has an increasing number of users each year. This network is complemented with private services, that essentially deal with medium and long-distance journeys. In the north, the use of buses is of much less importance from a cultural point of view. However, as a result of the Macron Law, enacted in August 2005, this situation is gradually changing. In fact, the market opening allowed by this law has triggered a wave of services. However, demand has not followed the same path, but this fashion seems to gently be catching on in the area. In the Aquitaine region it is possible to find different companies such as Ouibus, Isilines, Starshipper, Megabus and Flixbus. At the moment, only one company crosses the border.
The cross-border area, a different world
On a crossborder level, companies have not needed to wait for the Macron Law given that “international” bus transport was already authorised (depending on various criteria and prior requests). On this level, two companies represent an important sector of the market, especially between Bayonne/Biarritz and San Sebastián. The first is Pesa, an historic company from Gipuzkoa that runs several Lurraldebus lines as well as regular services between Bilbao airport and San Sebastián. The second company is Conda, from Navarre and purchased by Alsa (national company), that in turn belongs to the group National Express. In addition to being very present in Navarre, it goes to towns in the north such as San Juan Pie de Puerto. Finally, the arrival of new companies means new competition for the older ones. One example of this is Starshipper, which works with local bus companies to run the lines linking Bordeaux and Toulouse with San Sebastián.
Connections, a real headache
These cross-border services provide a connection between Biarritz airport and the centre of San Sebastián in 45 minutes, for a price of between 5 and 8 euros (depending on the period and company). Therefore, they are very effective. On the other hand, while contributing to eliminate the border effect, the lack of symmetry previously described in the article is still present; particularly in one area: stops. While in the south the majority of the main towns have a bus station (varying from large to small), in the north these types of infrastructures are rare. Up until now, bus services have been managed on a case-by-case basis, without any overall vision. Thanks to crossborder cooperation, we are lucky enough to be able to observe and analyse what takes place south of the border, in order to gain a better understanding of the problems in the north. This is one of the goals that we have set ourselves for the next 18 months.
Two examples to follow
In order to sustain our reflection, we recently visited bus stations in two Basque capitals, San Sebastián and Pamplona. The first is very recent, as it has only just been opened in February 2016, while the latter has been operating for quite a while in the capital of Navarre (it was named best Spanish bus station in Spain in 2011). In both cases, although the stations are different, the logic applied is similar and praiseworthy. The stations are underground, comfortable, accommodating, and everything has been built to facilitate access to buses. The only downside one could note about the two stations is a lack of information for travellers in relation to intermodal transport. However, pictures are worth a thousand words.
Pamplona Bus Station, Navarre
San Sebastián Bus Station, Gipuzkoa