Foreign bus owners face new limits

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Norwegian bus owners seem to be getting the protection they’ve wanted, reports newspaper Aftenposten. From this summer, their foreign competitors will only be allowed to operate in Norway for a maximum of 30 days in a row and 45 days in total for the year, if a proposal from the Ministry of Transport is adopted.

Busses line up to take passengers off a cruise ship on tours around Oslo. Norwegian tour bus operators probably won't have to deal with foreign competition much longer and likely will boost their prices. PHOTO: HMK.no

The measure is meant to limit competition from foreign firms. With lower wages and cheaper busses, they have been able to operate with significantly lower costs than their Norwegian rivals. According to the employers’ federation’s transport division, NHO Transport, certain Norwegian tour bus operators have lost up to 50 per cent of their passengers.

“We are happy that the Department of Transport is proposing to limit this traffic,” Jon H Stordrange, head of NHO Transport, told Aftenposten.

Foreign bus operators have made major inroads in two markets. The first is where tourists land at Gardermoen (Oslo’s main airport), are taken for a tour of Norway and then return to the same airport. The second is where cruise passengers are taken on tours from the various cruise stops.

Bus transport within another country is in fact prohibited. However, vehicles from European Economic Area (EEA) countries can drive for limited periods within the EEA area. According to the Norwegian operators this loophole has been abused. The period will now be set at 30 days.

“The limit may not have much effect on Swedish companies. They can change busses. Hopefully however it may mean that Spanish and Baltic companies, which have a significant market here, find Norway less attractive in future,” Stordrange adds.

The ministry realizes the price of tour bus services in Norway will now likely rise, making tourism in Norway even more expensive than it already is and less competititive. “Even so, the proposal is still something we can live with. As the proposal stands, there will still be a lot of competition in the market,” Bjørn M. Bjerke, head of the employer federation’s tourism division, NHO Reiseliv, told Aftenposten.

Tour bus operators want to know how the authorities intend to uphold the 30-day rule. The ministry has said that it intends to introduce log books for foreign busses. Norwegian operators prefer an electronic method linked to the same system used to pay for using toll roads.

The cruise industry is not at all pleased with the proposed protectionism for Norwegian tour busses. “I’m extremely surprised that the ministry would suggest something like this,” Arthur Kordt, CEO of European Cruise Service, told Aftenposten.

Kordt’s company provides services to cruise ships visiting Norway. He emphasizes that passenger numbers arriving  in Norway have increased by 10 per cent annually in recent years. According to Kordt, cruise operators have depended on foreign tour busses to handle all the passengers pouring off the cruise ships. Kordt also thinks prices will rise.

“Nevertheless the worst thing is that we risk not being able to cover our requirements,” Kordt told Aftenposten, fearing that the Norwegian companies alone won’t be able to meet demand.

Views and News from Norway/Sven Goll
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