Bus staff took 'kick-backs' for school runs, claims rival
A BITTER dispute between private bus operators and Bus Eireann over the lucrative €160m school bus transport scheme has escalated with fresh allegations of irregularities in how the scheme is run.
Student Transport Scheme (STS), which represents a group of American bus operators who want to move into the school bus market here, claims that private operators allegedly gave kick-backs to Bus Eireann employees to secure their local school bus routes.
The concession took a High Court challenge to Bus Eireann's right to run the school bus route in July, arguing that the contract should be put out to tender under EU law.
The Department of Education has automatically given the contract to Bus Eireann since the Sixties. While Bus Eireann runs the service, it hires private operators to run some local school routes.
STS now claims it has statements from two former private operators, who allege that they paid for gifts and provided free transport to local Bus Eireann employees to secure their school routes.
One local operator claimed to have personally paid for a flight to Spain for a Bus Eireann employee. The individual also claimed to have contributed to a 'holiday fund' set up by private operators for a Bus Eireann employee.
The operators also said they bought gifts and frequently provided what was effectively a free taxi service to some senior local Bus Eireann employees.
Bus Eireann said it had no knowledge of such complaints.
In a statement the company said: "This is the first time we have heard of these allegations. No formal complaints of this nature have been made to us in recent weeks.
"If operators have such complaints, then they should contact Bus Eireann with the evidence to support them and we will investigate them immediately. We take any such complaints very seriously, but can't investigate or comment on hearsay or rumour."
STS executive Tim Doyle will produce the allegations in defence of a libel action taken against him by Bus Eireann.
The company began defamation proceedings against Mr Doyle last month over a letter he wrote to Senator David Norris. He alleged that Bus Eireann was involved in bullying and bribery, which the bus company has denied.
The firm's chief executive, Martin Nolan, has since claimed that the accusations were groundless and designed to damage Bus Eireann's reputation, particularly with government ministers and the Oireachtas.
The school bus contract is extremely valuable to Bus Eireann. The Department of Education is the company's single biggest customer and the company brings 113,000 children to schools along 6,000 routes.
Bus Eireann is trying to move into the international school transport market by providing both transport and advisory services.