Saturday 18 November 2017

Victory for Bus Eireann as private companies prevented from bidding for school contract

Paul Melia

Paul Melia

PRIVATE companies have no right to bid for the multi-million euro contract to provide school transport for more than 110,000 children across the State, the High Court has ruled.

An attempt by a company called Student Transport Scheme Ltd (STS) to force the Department of Education to allow private companies to provide the service has been shot down, meaning Bus Eireann will continue to receive about €150m a year to provide the service.

This is because Judge Brian McGovern ruled there was no contract between the department and Bus Eireann, and therefore no requirement for it to be tendered out.

Bus Eireann has operated the school transport scheme since 1967 under a long-standing arrangement and STS had argued that it did form a contract and should be open to competition.

The decision was described as “disappointing” by the Coach Tourism and Transport Council, which represents private companies.

“It’s not right that school transport isn’t tendered out among competing companies. It’s a step backwards for school transport in Ireland,” a spokesman said.

Some 110,000 schoolchildren every day are transported to 3,000 schools across 6,000 routes. Some 1,400 private companies operate services on behalf of Bus Eireann.

STS had argued that the tender process, as allegedly operated under a contract with Bus Eireann, lacked transparency and infringed various EU directives and regulations.

The legal challenge was part-funded by two US transport companies, Trailways and the IC Bus Corporation. IC Bus makes the iconic yellow buses favoured by US schools.

STS, headed by Irishman Tim Doyle, promised to build a bus manufacturing facility if it won the legal challenge.

A 2011 Value for Money Report into the School Transport Scheme found that Bus Éireann was an efficient and effective administrator of the “complex” and “significant” scheme, and was the only organisation in Ireland with the skills, expertise and experience to administer it.

The company said it had reduced costs by more than €10m in recent years while increasing the number of services, particularly for children with special needs.

It “looked forward” to continuing to provide the service, it added.

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