France's state-owned bus and rail company, which runs the Paris Metro, has offered to operate most of Ireland's public-transport network if the Government decides to tender out routes for the first time.
Regie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP), which has a string of operations around the world, made a surprise submission to economist Colm McCarthy's review of semi-states companies, it has emerged.
The French operator, which also runs the RER, the Paris regional express-rail service, wrote to Mr McCarthy last August making a pitch for the business.
All Irish public-transport services are owned and run by CIE and its subsidiaries, except for Luas, which is run by Veolia, another French company.
The short letter, released by the Department of Public Expenditure over the weekend, includes RATP's view on how it could run services currently provided by Bus Eireann, Dublin Bus and Irish Rail. The company says it would be interested in all three "assets".
In relation to Dublin Bus, the company states: "We are interested in operating the totality of the network."
The company claims the most effective way to operate Dublin Bus would be to split it into different depot groups, with a minimum of 200 buses in each. It says it would be prepared to draw up a contract with Government to supply the service.
Dealing with Bus Eireann, the company again says it wants to operate the whole network. "We would suggest dividing the network by region and/or market segment," states the letter.
On Irish Rail, the firm is interested in the commuter network and the DART, but also the longer routes included in the intercity service.
"Our analysis, recommendations and proposals are based on the information we have to hand," states the letter.
"We would be pleased to have an open discussion with you in order to see what could be the best approach with regards to your concerns,'' the firm wrote to Mr McCarthy, the UCD economist who compiled the report.
The letter was sent by RATP Dev, a subsidiary of RATP. It was signed by the director of the company's northern European division.
RATP turned in profits of €186m last year, although like all transport companies it receives state assistance. It is one of the most active transport companies in Europe, operating buses in London and in several provincial English cities.
The Government has yet to implement any of the recommendations included in the McCarthy report, although the EU and IMF want it to sell state assets and use the proceeds to reduce the national debt.
A few years ago, then Transport Minister Seamus Brennan suggested that CIE's existing routes could be tendered out to other companies, but so far this has not happened, despite pressure from the private bus operators' lobby group.
Under a tendering scheme, routes would be auctioned off to private companies who would operate the routes over several years for a fee. They would have to hit state targets or they would lose the licence for that route.
Under Mr Brennan's proposals of a few years ago, CIE would also be allowed to tender for the routes against private and overseas players.