On April 20, 2022, the German Federal Cartel Office (“FCO”) issued a statement of objections against Deutsche Bahn AG (“DB”) taking the preliminary view that certain practices and contractual clauses of DB in relation to mobility platforms constitute an abuse of market power.
Mobility platforms offer online solutions for navigation including via different means of transport, e.g., combining rail journeys with flights, car sharing, long-distance busses or rental bicycles. They also often distribute tickets, also for DB. DB operates the German railway network and provides railway transport for passengers. At the same time, DB operates the mobility platforms “bahn.de” and “DB Navigator”. Via its platforms, DB distributes its own tickets as well as tickets for more than 50 third-party local transport associations.
The FCO identified several practices of DB regarding mobility platforms that raised competitive concerns: DB forbids its contractual partners to advertise their offer using DB-specific terms, and to offer rebates, cashback or loyalty programs when distributing DB tickets. In addition, the FCO is assessing whether DB abusively obtained booking and payment services for free from mobility platforms that distribute DB tickets. The FCO further noted that DB has exclusive access to data on train delays and cancellations but generally does not provide this data to other mobility platforms. The FCO’s investigation showed that this type of information was essential for planning and booking travel connections involving different means of transport.
According to the FCO, these practices not only affect mobility platforms but also other transport providers, especially because alternative mobility platforms could be an important tool to reach more customers. However, as long as travelers keep getting nudged towards distribution channels of DB, the FCO fears that DB’s market power may increase further.
DB, as well as any of the mobility platforms that have been admitted as interveners to the proceedings, have been given the opportunity to comment on the FCO’s preliminary findings.