Driving up bus hire cost? – Times of Malta

A leading member of the Unscheduled Bus Service is offering to hire vehicles at a rate that equates some €12,000 per day less than the government is paying.
Speaking in Parliament last month, Transport Minister Joe Mizzi said the State was spending €35,472 per day to hire 40 vehicles from the UBS to plug the gaps left by the bendy buses, which were withdrawn after a spate of fires last August.
This equates to €886 per bus per day. Based on the assumption that the buses are hired from 5am to midnight, this means the hourly rate per bus is €46.
Posing as an association of British travel agents who needed to hire a bus to ferry its members around on a fact-finding trip to Malta, The Sunday Times of Malta received a written quote from one of the most prominent UBS members – an association of private bus companies and garages – for €31 per hour.
The quote was for an air-conditioned 50-seater coach with a driver for 12 continuous hours or more per day.
If the coach was needed for eight hours or fewer the rate would have been €32.50 per hour. The rate offered for hiring a mini-bus was €30 per hour.
For 19 continuous hours per day, this would work out at €589 for the coach.
Hiring 40 coaches per day at this rate would cost €23,560 in total – some €12,000 less than the government is paying.
On February 14, Malta Public Transport Services informed this newspaper that it was at that time hiring 42 vehicles per day from the UBS – 26 coaches and 16 minibuses.
Based on the rate quoted by the bus firm for coaches and minibuses, this would cost €24,434 per day. The Sunday Times of Malta was informed by another leading UBS member that “the longer you hire the coach, the lower the hourly rate.”
The Transport Ministry and Malta Public Transport Services still have not responded to a request to explain the State operator’s rate.
UBS chief executive Ray Bartolo refused to say what rate the association was charging Malta Public Transport Services, saying the information was “commercially sensitive”.
“To date we have performed the service professionally and diligently and we have received good feedback from passengers using the service,” Mr Bartolo said.
In September, Times of Malta reported the UBS vehicles were being hired by then public transport operator Arriva for €30,000 per day, or €210,000 per week.
Assuming that the UBS has received on average €210,000 per week since the bendy buses were withdrawn in late August, in the absence of an explanation from the association or the government, this means it would have received some €5.25 million to date.
Malta Public Transport Services was set up to temporarily run the public bus network from January 1, after Arriva agreed to terminate its 10-year contract.
A spokesman said on February 14 the operator had “reappraised” its needs and was “concluding discussions with UBS to hire vehicles at lower rates”. A question on how much it expected to pay has yet to be answered.
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