The ÖBB intercity buses are a curiosity in the world of the Austrian Federal Railways. There are also only three lines and the reasons for this are typically Austrian or Italian. Reise-Insider.com by Aviation.Direct has taken a closer look at what ÖBB offers in its "tire trains" and how everything works.
Officially, the Austrian Federal Railways ended their foray into the long-distance bus business with the sale of the Hellö business. But that's not quite right, because three lines are still operated under the "ÖBB-Intercitybus" brand. One within Austria and two to Italy. These are strongly based on the rail product, but there are all sorts of differences.
Domestically, numerous trips between Graz and Klagenfurt are offered with Setra double-decker buses, which are operated by the subsidiary Österreichische Postbus AG. In Wolfsberg there is a short stop to get on and off. The rail tariff applies on this route, so that there should be no price difference – at least officially.
In terms of sales, the intercity bus between the two state capitals is like a train, because the tickets can be bought online, at machines, at the counter or at short notice from the bus driver. The "tire trains" also have numbers and there is the option of reserving seats. In contrast to the domestic Austrian Flixbus lines, the climate ticket is valid for the ÖBB intercity bus.
Like on the train: Two travel classes are offered
This product has some special features that differ greatly from other long-distance buses. A two-class system is practiced, which is visually based on the railway. The climate ticket is valid in second class, which is located on the upper deck of Setra buses. The seat covers should obviously be reminiscent of those that ÖBB has in many regional trains. The legroom here is 35,4 centimeters.
For a surcharge of 11,10 euros, holders of a climate ticket can use first class. This is located on the lower deck and has leather seats, among other things. At 42 centimetres, the legroom is also larger. There are also two seating areas with a table. This is quite suitable for working, but you should not rely on the advertised free WLAN working. This was not the case during the test drive, which was carried out in first class.
There are sockets on both the upper and lower deck, which can be used for laptops or mobile phones, for example. The toilet is in the lower area of the intercity bus and was perfectly clean during the test drive. There are also some free newspapers to choose from in First Class, however - apart from more legroom and leather seats - there aren't any serious added value that would make 'First Class' anything special. There used to be free drinks, but these were secretly canceled in the course of the corona pandemic.
Bus is faster than train
Curious, but true: the ÖBB intercity bus between Klagenfurt and Graz is significantly faster than the rail product. That is also the only reason why the Austrian Federal Railways put it on the road. With the opening of the Koralm tunnel, the travel time on the rails should be significantly reduced. It is to be expected that the intercity bus will then be discontinued.
There are a few things to keep in mind with the Austrian ÖBB intercity bus: In contrast to the long-distance buses of the competition, the ticket does not guarantee a seat. If you definitely want to travel with a specific bus, you should make a paid seat reservation. This costs three euros and is possible when purchasing the ticket, but also afterwards via all ÖBB sales channels. The seat reservation is already included in the first-class tickets at the standard price.
Climate ticket holders do not need a seat reservation, but if the bus is already full, you have to wait for the next one. Incidentally, this also applies to normal tickets without a reservation. With the ÖBB summer ticket, this year there is even a basic obligation to reserve on the intercity bus, so that young people who want to travel between Graz and Klagenfurt have to pay an additional three euros per trip.
Conclusion: Implementation very good, but the "trappings" are unnecessarily complicated
The ÖBB intercity bus on the Graz-Klagenfurt vv route is a sensible alternative to shorten the travel time between the two provincial capitals. The ÖBB subsidiary Postbus is running a solid product that is a serious alternative, especially to the car. However, the ÖBB make it quite complicated, because if you don't want to pay an extra three euros for the seat reservation, you have to worry about being able to take a ride at all.
With network tickets such as the climate ticket, it is clear because the ÖBB does not know when the passenger is coming. But with normal tickets, the federal railways know exactly how many tickets have been sold for which bus and the de facto compulsory reservation seems a bit like an additional Körberlgeld. This is made particularly clear by the fact that, of all people, young people with a youth ticket are subject to the general obligation to make reservations. It would be easier if the ÖBB introduced free reservations for holders of network tickets such as the summer or climate ticket. However, the federal railways will then also earn less...
The use of the first class is "nice to have", but there is no serious added value - apart from the small differences described above - compared to the second class. In addition, the route is rather short compared to other long-distance bus routes, so that the "comfort compromises" in second class are hardly noticeable.
With the intercity bus to Udine, Venice and Trieste
The Austrian Federal Railways offer two international intercity bus lines from Villach. These lead to Trieste and Venice, each with a short stopover to get on or off in Udine. The routes to Italy are also operated by the ÖBB subsidiary Österreichische Postbus AG. As a rule, single-deck touring coaches from the manufacturer Iveco are used.
The fact that these two intercity bus routes exist at all is due to the curious fact that the Italian state railways refuse to take on additional trains at the border. It is believed that the current offer is completely sufficient. The ÖBB see it differently, but for legal reasons they are dependent on the Italians. The Federal Railways see the traffic to Venice and Trieste as severely underserved and therefore took matters into their own hands more than a decade ago: the additional connections were simply implemented with buses.
Vorteilscard and climate ticket are not valid
ÖBB's Italy intercity buses are based on the rail product. In concrete terms, this means that you can buy tickets, for example from Vienna or Salzburg, to Venice, Udine and Trieste. In Villach you then have to change to the bus. A suboptimal situation for die-hard train drivers, but one must also acknowledge that the ÖBB have put together a solution and that the cause of the problem lies with the Italians.
The intercity bus from/to Italy has a crucial difference compared to the domestic Austrian bus. The rail tariff does not really apply, but there are special prices, which means that neither the climate ticket nor the ÖBB Vorteilscard are valid. But the seat reservation is included in the price. Attention: While the tickets between Villach and Venice are available in advance via all ÖBB sales channels from 13,90 euros, a significantly higher tariff applies directly to the bus driver. For example, Udine-Venice costs a whopping 26,20 euros directly from the driver. In Austria you can also pay with a debit or credit card, but in Italy you can only pay in cash. According to one driver, this is because the device has no reception in the neighboring country and therefore cannot be used. The ÖBB would not have taken care of it so far, even though many tickets are bought directly from the drivers.
The test drive was completed from Mestre station (suburb of Venice) to Villach. The ÖBB didn't put much effort into the design of the stop, which is diagonally opposite the station hall. An old, bent "Postbus-Spoon", which is already quite faded and a timetable notice should be enough. In Villach, Klagenfurt and Graz, where the buses also stop directly in front of the train stations, much more effort has been made.
The Postbus uses Iveco touring coaches on behalf of the parent company ÖBB on the routes to Italy. These are extremely young and some have only been put into regular service this year. Compared to the Setra buses, which operate within Austria, you have to accept a few compromises. The Iveco vehicles look as if normal intercity buses had been “pimped up” with a few extras. Sockets and USB ports are available, but they aren't exactly mounted above the passengers' heads in a thoughtful way.
Legroom smaller than within Austria
With only 35,7 centimeters of legroom, passengers with long legs are not exactly comfortable. Within Austria, passengers are offered significantly more space. It is incomprehensible that a single space for wheelchair users is given so much space that one could theoretically transport five people with restricted mobility, but is only allowed to take one with them due to approval. Furthermore, the seat numbers are awkwardly attached so that they can easily be covered by the curtains. This slows down boarding significantly.
Officially, the ÖBB offer "only second class" in the Italy intercity bus. You have to give the ÖBB credit for not advertising these buses with luxury or a particularly high level of comfort, but only stating the equipment features. These also include free WiFi, which didn't work during the test drive. But the toilet was impeccably clean. There are no drinks for sale, so you should bring your own snack and drinks.
The ÖBB intercity bus from/to Italy from/to Villach is an emergency solution by the Austrian Federal Railways, which has become more of a permanent solution due to the persistent refusal of the Italian railways. A solid basic product is offered to get from A to B - no more and no less. It's a bit cramped in the Iveco vehicles than in those made by Setra, but these are very young touring coaches and the Postbus obviously attaches great importance to cleanliness.
Conclusion on the intercity bus: There is room for improvement
Anyone who thinks that it will be a trip in a luxury bus is wrong here. The best way to describe it is to travel second class on an intercity train. And that is exactly what the ÖBB intercity bus should be and the federal railways promise no more and no less. The fact that the advertised wifi didn't work is tolerable. The bus driver couldn't do more than switch it off and on again and it didn't work - the driver says he has to go to the Postbus workshop and have a look.
It is critical to note that travel times within Austria are planned generously, so that a late arrival is rather unlikely. Unless you are unlucky enough to get stuck in a traffic jam, you can usually arrive a few minutes before the scheduled time. It's completely different in traffic to Italy: the times are planned extremely tightly, so that nothing can go wrong. Traffic jams, police checks or simply passengers who massively dawdle when boarding can lead to delays. The Postbus drivers do their best to keep to the timetable, but safety has priority: hook or by crook is out of the question for the driver. For example, the drivers can't help a traffic jam, but the ÖBB indirectly can, because you could simply calculate it in the travel time as a precaution. Nobody complains if you arrive earlier than expected, but people complain and moan when it gets later, because some then quickly worry about their connecting trains.
It should be noted that bicycles can also be taken on the intercity bus routes – within Austria and to/from Italy. Since the carriers mounted on the towbars can take a maximum of three to five pieces (depending on the approval of the carrier used), cyclists are strongly advised to reserve them in advance. This can only be done at the counter or via the hotline, but not at the vending machine or via the Internet. If you don't have a reservation for the bike and other passengers are already occupying the space, you can't take the "bike" with you.
Incidentally, in the course of research for this article, a flight connection was used to travel to Venice. If you compare the ÖBB product (Venice Mestre-Villach-Klagenfurt-Graz-Vienna), it is clear that the flight product is superior to that of the federal railways in terms of both travel time and price. However, if you have a lot of luggage with you and would like to make a stopover in Styria or Carinthia, it is of course better to take the "rail bus route". There are no flights to Trieste from the Austrian capital, so that the only alternative to the car is by train and bus.
But if you don't want to fly and prefer to travel by land, you can give ÖBB, including its intercity bus, a chance. It is definitely more pleasant than having to sit behind the wheel yourself and probably also cheaper because of the high fuel prices.
Tip: More photos are at Aviation.Direct photos provided as a gallery under this link.