The Serbian Competition Commission has continued with a high level of enforcement activity, this time by launching an abuse of dominance investigation against the operator of a bus station in northern Serbia. Based on what the Commission published on its website, it appears that the watchdog is qualifying the alleged wrongdoing as illegal discrimination.
According to the procedural order by way of which the investigation was opened, the bus station operator is a vertically integrated undertaking, owning not only the bus station but also a bus company. And it appears the Commission is treating the bus station as a dominant undertaking which was charging its related company more favorably than the related company’s competitors.
Just a short background. In Serbia, in order for a passenger to enter the outbound platforms area at intercity bus stations, he or she needs to pay the bus station fee, which is set by the bus station operator. Some of these operators are also active in the bus transport business and may be tempted to use the bus station fee as a way of promoting their transport arm – which seems to be what the Commission is alleging here.
Specifically, the Commission is alleging that the investigated bus station operator was charging the passengers of its related company a station fee which was more than five times lower than the fee charged to the passengers of an unrelated company, concerning the same route. Which was sufficient for the Commission to reasonably assume that the bus operator had infringed the Serbian equivalent of Article 102 TFEU.
Interestingly, this is not the first time the Commission has dealt with bus entry fees – back in 2007 it already decided one similar case, but concerning excessive pricing: in the 2007 case, the Belgrade bus station was found to have abused its dominance by charging an excessive price for the tokens the passengers use in order to enter the outbound platform.