Deutsche Bahn not only operates the country's rail network, it is also the biggest German bus operator. It owns Bex, Autokraft and Regiobus Dresden, which in 2009 ran 22 routes and served 700,000 passengers.
But it cannot close down an initiative called Deinbus started by a group of students which challenges the traditional way of managing bus routes. They arrange bus trips for a particular route on a particular day – once at least ten people have registered online for it.
They were granted permission to start their company by the Lake Constance local authority but this was challenged by Deutsche Bahn which made a legal complaint.
Initially the Bahn seemed en route to victory, with a chamber of commerce ruling against Deinbus, arguing that a 1930s law forbids bus services on routes already served by the Bahn unless they offer a ‘significant improvement'.
But Frankfurt District Court on Wednesday rejected its complaint and said the authority had been correct to award an operating license.
The fact that Deinbus does not offer regular services, rather arranging bus trips as and when passengers want to travel, meant they were not covered by the ban.
“We couldn't be happier,” said Alexander Kuhr, one of the Deinbus founders, shortly after the verdict.
“We want to now offer more trips and to grow further,” he said, adding that the attempt by Deutsche Bahn to close them down had only generated publicity for his company.
Deutsche Bahn did not attend the hearing but later issued a statement saying it was going to check the verdict before deciding on whether to appeal.