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User iHaveacomputer's answer to a question about smoking and EU trains and buses mentions that

in Germany the state-owned railway has a monopoly on long-distance travel.

On my first trip to Europe back in 2001/2002 one of my greatest frustrations was the seeming total lack of long distance buses as a cheaper alternative to trains - but especially in France which unlike Germany's multi-level train system only had really expensive TGV.

So are there long distance buses in France and I just couldn't find them?
Or is there an official state monopoly on trains as the only long distance transport?
Or is there some other reason that long distance buses don't compete with trains in France?

What am I missing?

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I just guess that there are no long distance buses because the railway system is established quite well. And with the TGV the connections in France and also international connections are really fast. Additionally the train ticket prices seem quite low to me so that buses will probably not be able to compete. –  RoflcoptrException Nov 9 '11 at 8:28
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To me the TGV prices were so high that I couldn't travel around france! We gave up trying to find ways to hop from small city to small city from Nice through Lyon up to Paris because each hop was about 50 euro - ten years ago compared to about 100 euro straight to Paris. We debated for hours and finally just went to Paris quite miffed. –  hippietrail Nov 9 '11 at 8:32
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Ok I should have mentioned that I compared the train ticket prices only to Switzerland. And then it is really low. But if you're lucky you get some special offer. In 2006 I took a TGV from Basel to Paris for just 12 Swiss Francs! –  RoflcoptrException Nov 9 '11 at 8:35
    
It's OK i'm already half way into a new question about low cost long distance travel in france. Switzerland is different because everybody expects it to be the most expensive place in europe - except maybe the norwegians d-; –  hippietrail Nov 9 '11 at 8:40
    
@hippietrail Switzerland is not that expensive anymore. North of italy can be far more expensive –  andra Nov 9 '11 at 8:57

3 Answers 3

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Until few months ago, french railways had the monopoly of long distance travel. This has changed recently and Eurolines now offers a few hundred intercity connections.

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This is great news! –  hippietrail Nov 9 '11 at 10:06
    
Yes, the SNCF had a monopoly on both rail travel and national city-to-city travel since 1937... other operators had to get permission from the SNCF to open travel lines, and long-distance bus travel was seen as a direct competitor by the SNCF so never allowed. –  tricasse Sep 29 '12 at 21:48

There seems to be a new bus in town, iDBUS. Within France it currently only offers Paris - Lille, the rest is London, Brussels, and Amsterdam.

It is affordable and more importantly they have free Wi-Fi. I am a bit skeptical about the proposed travel times, but it is definitely worth a try.

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First off all you don't have to take the TGV, you can still travel around on local trains, better known as TER. It requires some planning, but it can be quite charming. For example to get from Lille to Paris, you can take the quick TGV, or you take the local trains which will take you from Lille to Maubeuge and then to Paris.

But to answer your question regarding long distance bus journeys, there are options. The main provider is Eurolines. This is an umbrella company where different bus companies collaborate. But be aware buses are not always the cheapest solution.

The key to cheap traveling in Europe is planning all your traveling ahead and online. If you have to revert to ticket counters you are doomed to pay a lot.

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Andra, this answer might be better if you split some of it to the related question I just asked but I'm sorry it took me so long! –  hippietrail Nov 9 '11 at 9:20
    
I think I also need to ask a question for how to travel in Europe without planning in advance. It seems to be harder to avoid there than anywhere else I've travelled. It's really annoying. –  hippietrail Nov 9 '11 at 9:21
    
As for Eurolines, I tried very hard to find buses within France (Germany too) but could usually not find a bus between two points in one country or even not to a neighbouring country. If I was going two or more countries distant I did often use Eurolines or another bus. Maybe this has changed a bit over the decade? –  hippietrail Nov 9 '11 at 9:24
    
It is also worth mentioning that even though the regular fare might seem expensive, SNCF offers a discount card for people under 27, for up to 50% off. It is also member of RAILPLUS program so you can have 25% any ticket if you have another country's discount pass (like the German BahnCard 25). –  Vince Sep 28 '12 at 16:46
    
This option is not easy to book though, you should for example select the "carte jeune" and check you actually have 25% off ("période blanche" price for TER) –  Vince Sep 28 '12 at 16:52

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