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Auctions vs negotiations in public procurement: which Works better?


  • Rafael Lalive
  • Armin Schmutzler
  • Christine Zulehner


Public agencies mainly rely on two modes to procure goods and services: auctions and direct negotiations. We study a 1994 policy change in Germany that introduced the possibility to procure rail services in auctions as well as in direct negotiations with the incumbent. We analyze the effect of the procurement mode on service frequency and procurement price. Our analysis relies on self-collected data on the frequency of rail service on about 500 rail lines. We first develop a theoretical framework to study an agency’s decision on the procurement mode. We then use this framework to guide our empirical analysis on rail service, procurement price, and choice of procurement mode. Results indicate that, compared with negotiations, auctions improve service levels and reduce prices. As a result, surplus on auctioned lines increased by about 30%. Interestingly, surplus would also have increased by 16% on negotiated lines had auctions been used. We argue that the predominance of non-competitive modes reflects (actual or perceived) administrative costs of carrying out auctions.

Suggested Citation

  • Rafael Lalive & Armin Schmutzler & Christine Zulehner, 2015. "Auctions vs negotiations in public procurement: which Works better?," ECON - Working Papers 209, Department of Economics - University of Zurich.
  • Handle: RePEc:zur:econwp:209

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    Cited by:

    1. Armin Schmutzler, 2011. "Local Transportation Policy and the Environment," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 48(3), pages 511-535, March.
    2. Decio Coviello & Andrea Guglielmo & Giancarlo Spagnolo, 2015. "The Effect of Discretion on Procurement Performance," CEIS Research Paper 361, Tor Vergata University, CEIS, revised 17 Nov 2015.
    3. Herweg, Fabian & Schmidt, Klaus M., 2014. "Auctions vs. Negotiations:The Effects of Inefficient Renegotiation," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 484, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.
    4. Michal Kvasnicka & Rostislav Stanek & Ondrej Krcal, 2015. "Do Auctions Improve Public Procurement? Evidence from the Czech Republic," DANUBE: Law and Economics Review, European Association Comenius - EACO, issue 4, pages 241-257, December.
    5. Gian Luigi Albano & Berardino Cesi & Alberto Iozzi, 2017. "Teaching an old dog a new trick: reserve price and unverifiable quality in repeated procurement," CEIS Research Paper 404, Tor Vergata University, CEIS, revised 05 May 2017.
    6. Andrey Yakovlev & Aleksandra Bashina & Olga Demidova, 2014. "The effectiveness of simple homogeneous commodity procurement under rigid govermental regulation: the case of granulated sugar procurement in Russia," HSE Working papers WP BRP 13/PA/2014, National Research University Higher School of Economics.
    7. Gerardino, Maria Paula & Litschig, Stephan & Pomeranz, Dina, 2017. "Can Audits Backfire? Evidence from Public Procurement in Chile," CEPR Discussion Papers 12529, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    8. Albano, Gian Luigi & Cesi, Berardino & Iozzi, Alberto, 2017. "Public procurement with unverifiable quality: The case for discriminatory competitive procedures," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 145(C), pages 14-26.
    9. Lalive, Rafael & Luechinger, Simon & Schmutzler, Armin, 2013. "Does Supporting Passenger Railways Reduce Road Traffic Externalities?," CEPR Discussion Papers 9335, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    10. van den Berg, Vincent A.C., 2013. "Serial private infrastructures," Transportation Research Part B: Methodological, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 186-202.
    11. Tomeš, Zdeněk & Kvizda, Martin & Nigrin, Tomáš & Seidenglanz, Daniel, 2014. "Competition in the railway passenger market in the Czech Republic," Research in Transportation Economics, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 270-276.
    12. Hunold, Matthias & Laitenberger, Ulrich & Licht, Georg & Nikogosian, Vigen & Stenzel, André & Ullrich, Hannes & Wolf, Christoph, 2011. "Modernisierung der Konzentrationsberichterstattung: Endbericht," ZEW Expertises, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research, number 110525.
    13. Wegelin, Philipp & von Arx, Widar, 2016. "The impact of alternative governance forms of regional public rail transport on transaction costs. Case evidence from Germany and Switzerland," Research in Transportation Economics, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 133-142.

    More about this item


    Auctions; negotiations; liberalization; passenger railways; public procurement;

    JEL classification:

    • D43 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Oligopoly and Other Forms of Market Imperfection
    • D44 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Auctions
    • R48 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Transportation Economics - - - Government Pricing and Policy

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