Regulation, trust and contractual incentives around transport contracts – Is there anything bus operators can learn from public air service contracts?

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - australasia, place - europe, mode - bus, mode - other, organisation - contracting, economics - subsidy


Public service obligations, Bus and air transport contracts, Information asymmetries, Transaction cost economics


This paper compares recent experiences in contract negotiation and subsequent commitment in public air services with the bus industry. The heart of the paper is a survey of European and Australian regional airlines, which we mirror with revealed experiences of bus operators. We aim to identify a number of elements in the contracting regimes that have exposed ambiguity and significant gaps in what the principal (e.g., transport department) expected, and what the agent (airline or bus operator) believed they were obliged to deliver. Ultimately airline and bus services are similar in that public authorities procure transport services that are desirable for the society but would be unprofitable without government involvement. In both sectors (theoretically fairly similar) public transport contracts are used, and those usually include obligations and performance measurements. In terms of similarities, one of the surveyed contract details that had a perceived high clarity in both industries was “payment procedures” and amongst those with rather poor clarity was also in both industries “incentives to improve performance and grow patronage”. We also show differences between regional air services and bus operations with regard to performance measurement and pre-specified obligations. Because of the strong safety culture around air services we find that regulation and trusting partnerships are even more important to aviation than to the bus sector. Because of the high level of trust but also because of simpler and more complete contracts in aviation, there is much less (re-)negotiation going on compared to the bus operations.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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