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Transport operators launch EU challenge over school transport system

The Coach Tourism & Transport Council will ask the European Commission to investigate how Ireland organises school transport.

Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

AN ASSOCIATION of transport operators will today launch a complaint at EU level about how Ireland organises its school transport system.

The Coach Tourism & Transport Council, which represents bus companies operating under the School Transport Scheme, says the Department of Education is in contravention of EU laws by awarding some contracts to Bus Éireann – without the state-owned operator having to tender for them.

The council says Bus Éireann’s profits from the services are sent to its Expressway division – which is a commercial service, divorced from the funding that Bus Éireann receives to provide other services.

This appears to be a breach of an EU regulation which bars countries from funding a commercial entity, and two directives which require tendering to take place, and to be carried out in a ‘transparent’ manner.

The bus operators also argue that the issuing of the School Transport Scheme contract, without a tender, was a breach of Ireland’s own guidelines for the governance of staet bodies.

CTTC chief executive Gerry Mullins said the decision to take action at European level had been taken “reluctantly”, but that the government had failed to respond to requests “to bring transparency to the scheme’s finances”.

School transport contracts are worth some €180m per year.

This evening a Bus Éireann statement said an independent value-for-money audit had found Bus Éireann to be the only body capable of operating the scheme efficiently, and that there was no existing organisation which would match its expertise and experience.

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The company also said operated a separate account for the scheme, which was audited annually and managed independently of the Expressway service.

“There is no evidence to back up the CTTC allegations and on several occasions Bus Éireann has asked Mr Mullins to show evidence or withdraw the statement,” the statement said.

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Gavan Reilly

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