How to Improve Cross-border Public Transport?

How to Improve Cross-border Public Transport?


D Meinhard, IVV, DE; A Winder, ISIS, FR




Until recently, borders between member states of the European Union were a clear barrier, not only in terms of culture and language, but also in terms of transport planning and marketing. With increasing European integration borders are losing their importance and their separating effect, particularly where a major city in once country has a catchment area in another (e.g. Strasbourg and the Ortenau district in Germany). Consequently, cross-border car usage is rapidly increasing, whereas ridership on public transport stagnates.

Generally, little has been done so far to assist the improvement of cross-border connections in public transport whether at national or supra-national level. The CONPASS project aimed to provide support in this field. The project dealt with experience-based strategies to improve cross-border local and regional public transport in urbanised areas. CONPASS was a 2.5 year research project (2000 - 2002) co-financed by the EU under the 5th Framework RTD Programme and comprised 22 partners from 9 countries, thus providing a wide European coverage.

A major contribution of the project is a comprehensive insight into the nature of existing border barriers throughout Europe as well as providing the necessary tools on how to overcome these barriers. In this paper, selected recommendations addressed to practitioners at site level as well as to policy makers at national or European level are featured.


Europe is increasingly becoming a Europe of regions with increased integration across national borders leading to cross-border regions. Since public transport provides the necessary mobility options for the mobility of people across borders, poor or non-existent cross-border local public transport connections can be regarded as a convincing indicator of non-integration within a border region.

By performing an exhaustive state-of the-art survey as well as an in-depth analysis of the current situation on cross-border public transport in more than 20 urbanised European border areas, CONPASS experienced various obstacles under which cross-border public transport generally operates. These obstacles can be subdivided into three categories with respect to the likely ways of overcoming them to reach improvements:

(1) Some obstacles derive from socio-economic border barriers, i.e. the absence of certain travel motives in cross-border traffic like school transport across the border (catchment areas of schools do not usually extend across international borders, but school transport is an important share of public transport demand in many European countries). Generally speaking, those obstacles cannot be tackled at all from a transport-related point of view.

(2) Some barriers are produced by the public transport supply itself (e.g. physical transport options are available, but there is no co-ordinated inter-change between two domestic lines which both run only as far as the border). This clearly requires commitment and actions undertaken by the respective actors at the site to overcome them. However, actors need support (recommendations on how to start improvements, what to consider etc.) which have not been available so far. CONPASS produced a ?Toolbox? - a handbook-style document featuring sup-porting material. Essential recommendations from the ?toolbox? are outlined be-low.

(3) There are obviously some obstacles that derive from the overall policy framework. This can be only changed if the policy framework is adapted or new tools and options are available. A compilation of theses targeting this aspect are subsequently presented.


For practitioners, the most important information is that on practical steps and therefore about how to get things started and what to consider when heading for a certain step of improvement. Possible measures to reach realistic improvements are shown in the project?s toolbox. Recommendations to get things started at an early stage are:

* Establish good and trusting contacts! Improvements in cross-border public transport depend on personal contacts with players across the border. Conse-quently, well-established contacts are a prerequisite for any co-operation. Com-mon talks should be focused on a clear vision of improvements in cross-border public transport.

* Start with a ?loose? working group! The working group should integrate all relevant parties from both sides of the border. Cross-border public transport improvements depend on individual initiatives and local commitment. Under these prerequisites, a working group could be a fruitful approach to channel this com-mitment to common projects. The group should be co-ordinated by a player with cross-border experience (e.g. cross-border institution).

* Keep cross-border measures as simple as possible! Cross-border measures work well if the idea or solution is very simple, e.g. on a line with a joint service every operator runs 50% of all trips instead of a complicated measure to share the revenues.

* Reach common sense! If co-operation with neighbouring responsible bodies (op-erators and/or authorities) is impossible, measures normally fail. Consequently, there must be a common interest of all parties from both sides for a certain measure. Improvements are likely to be implemented, if co-operation is possible and each player cares for ?his? national contribution to the project.

* Don't wait for a change in legal conditions! At national borders, different national legislation and regulation frameworks (and even cultures) meet which might cause barriers or unattractive framework conditions for operating public transport services across the border. It is unlikely that these barriers will totally disappear in the near future, e.g. by the ongoing European harmonisation process. Therefore, working on solutions that ?infiltrate? the different frame-works and bridging existing gaps and differences is highly advisable from a lo-cal perspective.

* Domestic solutions may not work on an international basis! The differences between the countries in organising public transport are very relevant. Conse-quently, a concept which has been successful in one country is not necessarily feasible on an international level because it could be in conflict with one of the national framework for organising public transport. It seems that all meas-ures are feasible as long as they do not act on (1) the respective national strategies in organising public transport, (2) each player?s independence.


Since cross-border public transport plays a key role for the integration of bor-der regions, policy actions to overcome obstacles will contribute to further European integration. The most important policy recommendations derived from the project?s analysis work are based on a couple of theses, each of which points to a specific obstacle at the policy level.

* There is little focus on international short distance transport! In public discussions, cross-border public transport is often thought of as long-distance services by rail, although the majority of cross-border travellers make local and regional trips. The EU is supporting the concept of trans-European networks (TENs). However, similar actions on local and regional levels are missing.

* A cross-border public transport master plan is a necessary planning tool! Without any doubt, an integrated or at least an agreed planning approach is a prerequisite for improvements in cross-border public transport. A cross-border public transport master plan will allow a border region to present its ideas, perspectives, and intentions for the cross-border public transport developments. It should be based on voluntary commitment (self-binding) of the region, but funded by EU programmes.

* Cross-border public transport needs continuity! A long-standing continuity of cross-border service supply and related measures (e.g. information) is important to attain high levels of success. Existing funding practices (e.g. Interreg) are often providing subsidies for a limited period as knock-on financing. Strategies are needed to support cross-border services on a more permanent basis.

* Marketing for cross-border public transport issues needs support! There is a clear need to nominate a body in charge of lobbying and promoting cross-border public transport issues. In many border regions, cross-border organisations (?Euroregions? or ?Euregios?) exist. Their neutrality and their ability to ?think across the border? provide an excellent basis to encourage responsible institutions and operators to commit themselves in this field.

* Networking among practitioners is a key-issue! Professionals are all facing similar problems and are all carrying a high responsibility for European inte-gration in their respective border regions. Consequently, it can be regarded as highly efficient to support these practitioners by loose networking or platform activities.

* Special support for accession countries is necessary to speed up integration! Co-operation has only recently been initiated in some east European border re-gions. Consequently, the necessity to provide support to get things started in cross-border co-operation in general and especially in public transport is more essential at east European borders. Practical aids like translation of informa-tion tools into major east European languages could contribute to improvements in this field in future.


The ?Toolbox? is the handbook-style collection of all main findings of the CONPASS project addressed to people involved in cross border public transport planning issues (operators, local/regional transport administrations, public transport associations, cross-border institutions; consultants, etc.). The tool-box provides
* easy access to the knowledge base gained by CONPASS,
* support on 'how to bridge border barriers?',
* measures to overcome transport-inherent border barriers,
* recommendations for further development of cross-border connections.

The document is freely accessible on the Internet, either as web-based elec-tronic version or as print version (PDF-files for download) at


Association for European Transport