Transport Minister Marios Demetriades said on Thursday it would have been better for Cyprus if the government at the time had invited tenders for public transport instead of implementing the current bus system, which has been problematic from the onset.
Speaking before the House Transport Committee, Demetriades said the state paid €52mln for public transport in 2015, an amount that was not excessive for the island’s size.
“The issue is to spend this money and get the commensurate return,” he said. “At the point we are today we are not getting the proper return.”
The current 10-year agreement with bus companies was signed by the previous administration in 2009.
The government never went to open tenders on the suggestion of the Road Transport Department, which said going directly to locals would prevent unrest among the 200 bus operators.
Trouble with the EU was averted by way of concession contracts.
The agreement was signed during the tenure of former minister and now an MP with EDEK Nicos Nicolaides. His successor, Erato Kozakou Marcoullis, had asked for a review of the system in all districts after it transpired — due to the economic crisis — that taxpayers were paying too much money for a mediocre service.
There were also reports in 2012 about bus companies that employed relatives as executives and paid them princely salaries.
The state has managed to cut down the subsidy paid to companies but the system is still problematic with strikes being a frequent occurrence.
On Thursday, Demetriades said it would have been more useful for Cyprus if it had implemented Malta’s system – having a competition and awarding the contract to the lowest bidder.
This, Demetriades said, resolved cost oversight issues to a large extent, and prevented conflict with the companies.
“I don’t want to set the conditions of the competition, which will take place in 2020,” the minister said. “It is a good system, which we could implement from now in Cyprus, it would be useful.”
To do so however, would entail setting specific routes and having good monitoring systems, something the Cypriot public transport system lacked, he said.
A tender for the installation of GPS trackers and ticket validation systems has been stuck before the tender review authority for the past year or so, following the competition in 2014.
Not having this equipment was a “significant omission from the beginning,” Demetriades said.
But he urged all parties involved to make an effort to improve the situation.
“We should not criticise public transport, it is something we need and everyone must make the necessary effort to improve them,” he said.
Demetriades said what was important was not for staff to get pay raises but to have a system that met the public’s expectations.
“We have a system that is significantly improved but certainly not at the level we would want it to be,” he said.