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Deutsche Bahn argues that hogging data is just more efficient

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Deutsche Bahn told Germany’s Cartel Office that it’s just more efficient for it to keep rail data only for its own online booking platform, according to legal documents seen by POLITICO.

The state-owned railway is fighting against the antitrust authority’s preliminary findings that it unfairly refuses to share information or pass on discounts to rival websites. Complying fully with the Cartel Office’s stance “would be unlawful,” Deutsche Bahn said in its legal defense to the authority, adding that the company only relies on its own distribution “for reasons of efficiency.”

Europe’s largest rail company is challenging antitrust regulators over its refusal to share forecast data for rail passenger transport with other platforms such as Omio and Trainline. The Cartel Office said in April that access to such data is vital. Its final decision could come within weeks, one person told POLITICO. The Cartel Offfice told POLITICO that it didn’t know when it would be concluded.

Deutsche Bahn said the importance of the data is overrated and there’s no proof that rival platforms really need it. It also claims that its refusal to allow rival services to offer discounts and promotions doesn’t harm them. Prices are “not a relevant parameter for competition on the alleged market for integrated mobility services,” it said.

Trainline disputed this, saying information on whether trains are on time or delayed is vital to German train travelers.

“Unlike other train carriers across Europe, Deutsche Bahn doesn’t share real-time data with competitors and partners,” a Trainline spokesperson said. “By blocking access to it Deutsche Bahn is standing in the way of consumers having the best possible experience, no matter where they book their ticket.”

Mobility platforms offer online solutions for planning routes across different means of transportation, arranging a combination of train tickets with flights, car-sharing, long-distance buses or rental bicycles.

Omio and Trainline were critical of Deutsche Bahn in 2020 when it emerged that the rail giant had been withholding key passenger data during the heights of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Financial Times.

Deutsche Bahn also defended its refusal to allow rivals to use the name of the German railway for ads on search engines or social media platforms — even though they are selling Bahn products. The company said the platforms are free to “choose between a variety of keywords and terms.” Trainline said such marketing restrictions reduces the visibility that rival apps have in search engines like Google, granting the German rail prover a strong advantage.

The railway also points to “the superbly functioning DB Navigator app and its online booking portal bahn.de” to show the success of its model.

A spokesperson for Deutsche Bahn said the company did not comment on internal documents.

This article is part of POLITICO Pro

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