While all eyes are on what Uber Lyft and Didi will do this year as private transportation-on-demand services continue to consolidate, there’s also some interesting moves being played out in the adjacent business of bus and coach services.
Today, FlixBus, the German startup backed by Daimler, General Atlantic, Silver Lake and others that has built an Uber-like network to manage bus logistics, drivers and passengers on intercity routes, announced that it is entering a deal to acquire Eurolines, a competing service currently owned by Transdev, a European public transport giant.
The move is being made to expand its services specifically in Europe.
“This acquisition would strengthen our position as market leader in France and allows us to expand our European reach even further by integrating the Eurolines and isilines long-distance route networks,” said Jochen Engert, founder and CEO of FlixBus, in a statement. “With this integration, FlixBus would have an even more-complete and diverse offer to entice even more passengers. We aim to be the number one choice for travelers across Europe.” The companies say they are currently in negotiations with workers’ groups as part of the acquisition process.
Terms of the deal are not being disclosed, spokespeople for Transdev and Flixbus said in a statement to TechCrunch. FlixBus has never disclosed how much it has raised, nor its valuation.
But it is currently Europe’s largest bus service network, with routes in 29 countries and serving some 45 million passengers in 2018. It is rumored both to be eyeing up an IPO and is also valued at over $1 billion.
Transdev, meanwhile, was last valued at around $1.3 billion, according to PitchBook, after raising nearly $400 million earlier this year. The company, based out of France, has a plan to orient itself away from B2C services under new CEO Theirry Mallet (who took over the role last month), to instead focus on public transportation. Divesting Eurolines would be in keeping with that.
“The decision to enter exclusive negotiations with FlixBus regarding the potential divestment from Eurolines is in line with Transdev’s strategic plan,” said Mallet in a statement. “It would enable us to focus our resources on the core of our business, public transit and B2B transportation services by combining performance at best cost, technological and digital innovation, specifically to improve the customer experience.”
It’s not clear how big Eurolines/isilines is relative to Transdev overall, but the former business appears to be growing: it transported 2.5 million passengers in 2018, up 10 percent compared to 2017, a spokesperson told TechCrunch. (Still, a small business compared to FlixBus’ operation.)
The deal represents a big consolidation move in the area of bus services — and specifically services that help manage the movement of buses, rather than the physical bus companies themselves.
Similar to Uber, FlixBus and Eurolines do not take on the capital expenditure and operational costs of owning fleets of vehicles, instead providing a service to scores of companies that operate fleets to provide them with an efficient network to sell tickets and organise schedules around their services.
They also take a hand in customising the buses that work on their services with WiFi and other features.
While Greyhound-style long-distance bus services may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of when the concept of state-of-the-art travel, both Transdev and FlixBus have been trying to change that. FlixBus, which recently also entered the US market, started to pilot VR services on specific routes this year. Transdev, meanwhile, has been one of the companies building autonomous driving for buses.
With this deal, FlixBus would be bulking up in Europe specifically to help it take on not just other modes of transport like trains, planes and automobiles, but also to compete against bus companies.
Just a few months ago, France’s BlaBlaCar announced that it would acquire yet another hopeful in the space, Ouibus, from SNCF (France’s public transport provider). With others like Uber also recently launching its first forays into bus services as well, coach companies will have to bust a move if they hope to stay ahead in the bus game.