Challenge to school transport scheme fails
A PRIVATE company has lost a High Court challenge to the arrangements between the State and Bus Éireann for the provision of school transport services for more than 100,000 pupils.
Student Transport Scheme (STS) Ltd claimed the Minister for Education and Skills was acting in breach of EU regulations in not putting out to tender an alleged contract with Bus Éireann for providing the service.
STS claimed an agreement between the Minister and the State-subsidised bus company contravened the European Communities (Public Authorities Contracts Review Procedures) Regulations 2010 relating to public contracts.
The Minister and Bus Éireann, a notice party to the case, both argued there was no contract and, even if there was, they were entitled to avail of a number of exceptions including the school bus scheme which was set up long before the EU regulations came into force.
Mr Justice McGovern said yesterday he was satisfied there was no contract within the meaning of the regulations. STS had failed to establish the scheme between the Minister and Bus Éireann, as it exists for the 2011-2012 school year, was for a “pecuniary interest”, he found.
The judge noted that, in 1967 the minister decided to give total administration of the school bus scheme to Bus Éireann.About 106,300 pupils were now carried daily under the scheme, he noted. Some 85 per cent of the buses used are provided by private operators and some 700 services are provided by taxis for small numbers of special-needs pupils.
The scheme was highly complex and managed centrally by a team of seven dedicated employees at Bus Éireann headquarters in Dublin and in 11 regional offices, he said. It involved a number of functions including procurement and monitoring of private operators providing the service.
The Minister reimburses Bus Éireann for a range of costs directly incurred in the operation of the scheme, he also noted.He was satisfied the arrangements between the Minister and Bus Éireann “do not contain any terms that might normally be associated with a commercial contract”.
The relationship between the Minister and Bus Éireann was not contractual on grounds including the company performed functions as instructed and because the Minister controlled policy via criteria for any charges imposed for children using the scheme, he said.