‘Exorbitant’ €3m spent on consultants in new plan for Dublin's buses

Cost of ‘extra specialist resources’ defended by scheme as ‘reasonable and practical’

Jarrett Walker: has been paid €615,000 up to August this year. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Jarrett Walker: has been paid €615,000 up to August this year. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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Almost €3 million has already been spent on consultants for the controversial BusConnects plan, newly released figures show.

Procurement documents show the US-based transit consultancy headed by Jarrett Walker, the lead designer of the overhaul of Dublin’s bus network, saw off competition from four others to win a tender for the project in 2016.

The National Transport Authority awarded the contract to Mr Walker, noting it was the “the most economically advantageous tender”. The cost of the contract was set at €404,851 and the plan was to be implemented by the first half of this year.

Figures obtained through a parliamentary question show Mr Walker has already been paid €615,000 up to August this year. Another 11 consultancies have shared €2.2 million to date for their work.

Imelda Munster, Sinn Féin’s transport spokeswoman, who obtained the figures, said she was “shocked” at the spend.

“When I first saw these figures, I thought: my God, the consultants must be rubbing their hands every time they get a phone call from the NTA or the Department [of Transport],” she said.

Mr Walker was paid €407,000 last year, and €208,000 so far this year. With the big response to the public consultation on BusConnects, he has already indicated he will be reworking the plan into next year.

The Portland, Oregon-based consultant said last week there had been some “hysteria” over his proposals and that he “did not expect the plan to be attacked in the very aggressive way that it was”.

Breakdown

At least five engineering firms have been contracted on the plan since 2014. Aecom have been paid €697,000 to date; CH2M Barry €549,000; DBFL €208,000; Jacobs €153,000; and Arup €136,000. Design engineers Clifton have been paid €252,000.

Chandler KBS, a cost management consultancy, has received €94,000; accountancy firm KPMG has been paid €29,000 for a “business case” on proposed bus lanes; Ernst Young received €20,000 for “financial advice”; and legal firm McCann Fitzgerald has been paid €10,000 for advice on the construction of bus lanes.

A firm called Laser Surveys was paid €4,000.

Most of the consultants are being paid for their work on the proposed building of 230km of dedicated bus lanes.

“The consultants’ fees and charges are an exorbitant cost to the State,” said Ms Munster.

“It all comes back to zero expertise within State bodies or the department. They outsource to private consultants at whatever the cost to the taxpayer.”

Gráinne Mackin, head of communications for BusConnects, said the 10-year infrastructural project needs “specialist engineering, design and planning resources at certain stages of the project – especially at initial design and planning stages.

“Given the scale of the project and its range of initiatives, it is reasonable and practical that extra specialist resources would be needed,” she said.

Mr Walker’s €405,000 contract did not include VAT, she said, which brought the cost to €498,000.

“Additional work was subsequently requested that was not included in the original tender and that would be reflected in the additional cost and VAT – the difference from €498,000 up to €615,000.”

The additional work included workshops for councillors and officials last year, extra survey analysis, a launch briefing in July this year, as well as a full week of briefings to TDs, councillors and officials at the time.

Mapping tool

Mr Walker also developed an additional interactive mapping tool for the BusConnects website.

“The original tender included work to be carried out on the revisions of the proposals post consultation and we do not anticipate additional costs at this stage but we obviously won’t be certain until we start compiling and reviewing all the submissions received,” Ms Mackin added.

More than 20,000 submissions have been made to to the NTA in relation to the bus network redesign as part of a public consultation, which closed on Friday. The volume of feedback has already delayed the expected publication of a final plan, with its implementation being put back to 2020.

Ms Munster said there were “very few projects put out to public consultation that get that volume of submissions”.

“The volume and the outcry raises questions as to how they got it so wrong,” she said, adding: “In fairness, we should give them a chance to put that right.”

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