SCHOOL bus operators, parents and schools have expressed anger over the recent changes to the school bus contracts, which have seen some local bus owners lose their regular bus runs because of lower bids by rivals.
Bus owners were told by Bus Éireann last May that the five-year school bus contracts were up for tender and they had to re-apply. They were notified of the successful applicants last month.
However, some bus owners who drove for years for their local schools found themselves ‘squeezed out’ and undercut by other bus operators, a number have told this paper.
One bus owner told The Southern Star that she was very disappointed with the wording of an email to inform her that she hadn’t won the contract.
‘Their wording angered me more than anything, as the email simply said: “Thank you for participating in the competition. We wish you the best for the future”.’
She told The Southern Star: ‘That was my livelihood and it’s not a “competition”.’
‘The fact that I operated this service locally didn’t make any difference, and it seems like the big guys just took over. It’s really unfair that people who provided a good service for a long time to their own community were treated so shabbily.’
The driver also said it’s a case of everyone tendering against one another with some operators undercutting others.
She said the system has now created ‘lots of bad feeling’ between operators – not just in Cork but all over the country.
The Southern Star has learned that one of the new bus operators in West Cork, who was awarded three separate runs, later decided to hand them back.
And this wasn’t an isolated case, as a few others also handed them back when they realised they could not produce the correct documents on time, or that their bus wasn’t suitable for school transport use.
Another contractor is understood to have received a contract but handed it back a week after he started.
However, a spokesperson for Bus Éireann said that in certain circumstances, and for different reasons, a contractor may decide not to continue with a contract.
‘For example, they may prefer other work instead, they may find operating standards too high, they may find that they quoted too low to sustain the work, or there may be other reasons. In this regard, the second ranked tenderer may then be asked if they wish to take up the route, but in the interim the route is covered to ensure delivery of the service.’
A principal of one national school in West Cork said that it was a shame that the system now meant the contracts went simply to whoever provided the cheapest service.
‘There were local providers running a service and now they have been left out,’ they said.
They added that there were also fears that some new bus operators may skimp on maintenance issues in order to offer a cheaper service.
The spokesperson for Bus Éireann added that the tendering process is a competitive process, which allows the company achieve value for money and all these elements comply with the European Directives governing public procurement and they pointed out that price is not the only consideration, with quality of service also taken into consideration.