When talking to railway companies and travel agencies about rail distribution in Europe, one topic always comes back in the discussion: “there is no rail BSP”.
Let’s go back to the basics first and try to understand what BSP is and what it does for the airline world.
BSP – or Billing and Settlement Plan – is a system administered by IATA, the International Air transport Association, in order to facilitate the sales, remittance and reporting between airlines and IATA accredited travel agencies. Global, the BSP system covers more than 160 countries and territories, serving about 400 airlines for a gross sales amount of US$ 191 billion in 2009 - more on iata.org.
In addition to the guarantees it provides to airlines about agency accreditation, the true value of the BSP for airlines is a reliable credit management collection through one single standard interface for invoicing and payment.
There is actually one BSP-like system in the rail industry: ATOC Rail Settlement plan - it acts the same way as the IATA BSP for UK rail operators, simplifying the payment between railways and rail travel sellers in the UK. It also sets standards for booking and ticketing – more on atoc.org.
Could this be applied elsewhere then?
Well, ATOC works in the UK: one market, one currency, one set of standards for multiple providers. Extending this BSP system to Europe might be feasible but: who will be in charge of it? Who will run it? Who will participate in it?
A first option would be for railways to work together and create such a representative body like IATA, to neutrally represent their interests and build a Rail BSP. The biggest challenge to implement such a system remains the railways themselves and their willingness to cooperate. This is definitely a long-term approach that could take many years to come to life.
Another option would be for a third party to start such a system with one rail operator in one country, before expanding the system to other operators - this is a progressive approach, short to medium term, that could well be a helpful kick start in such a complex market place.
Yet, the question of “who” still remains – any candidates?