Lowest bids for Olympic buses still exorbitant

The purchase of 600 new buses for just over 149 million euros by Athens city bus operator ETHEL has hit so many snags that the competition may be canceled. Constant interference and manipulation has put Greece in a very embarrassing position with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). ETHEL had promised to provide a specific number and type of buses during the Games, but apparently will not have the buses at its disposal. Eighteen months after the committees’ meetings and discussions, and while the objections and disputes of the construction companies are still being heard in court, the bids for three types of buses are being sealed. Informed sources say that the lowest bids are for very high prices. So, just a few months before the Games start, the authorities are facing a tricky dilemma. They must either drive a hard bargain to lower the bids, which would be difficult within such a short time frame, or cancel the competition. Sources say the company which appears to have made the best tender to provide 100 articulated buses is Elvo, owned by Mytilineos, which met the technical requirements for the contract and has offered a price of 330,000 euros per bus. This price is exorbitant when compared with a corresponding offer made by the same company in a bidding competition held in Thessaloniki recently. At that time the same bus was offered for the price of 263,000 euros. The company offering the lowest bid for the provision of 100 8-meter buses is Vanhool, owned by the Sfakianakis group, which met the technical requirements and offered the buses at the price of 207,000 euros apiece. A comparison with the price asked in the same competition by Irisbus, from the Kontellis group, for the provision of 12-meter buses at 190,000 euros apiece, reveals that if the competition goes ahead, then the 8-meter buses will cost more than the 12-meter buses. It seems highly unlikely that ETHEL will acquire the buses it promised Athens 2004 for the needs of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The company’s managing director K. Kokkoris may tell all and sundry that he will not submit to pressure over the competition, but he has probably forgotten that: (a) ETHEL has made a commitment to operate in summer 2004 on winter rather than summer timetables, which means that virtually the entire fleet of 1,750 buses will be on the road; (b) it must have enough vehicles (around 450) for the 20 new Olympic bus routes, which will also require 100 vehicles in reserve. If these 550 buses never reach the bus depots, it will totally disrupt Athens 2004’s planning, and in order to meet the need for Olympic transport the company will reduce the frequency of standard urban transport by 25 percent; and c) this shortage of buses will have serious consequences for the Paralympics, for which the company had promised 300 buses with low floors and ramps that would be accessible to people with special needs. Until very recently, ETHEL believed that if the competition failed it could put back into circulation some old low-floored buses that are no in longer in use. This will not be feasible, however, because inspections carried out last week by the company’s technicians showed that the old vehicles are completely unsuitable for further use. Kokkoris insists that all is not lost, as there is still some leeway for negotiating prices with the bidding companies. But the prices were submitted a year ago and are in the process of rising, while the deadlines for delivery of the vehicles obviously cannot be postponed beyond the summer of 2004. Yet the contracts should be ratified and the winning bidder announced in just two months’ time. Many observers believe that in view of the urgency of the situation, the only way to resolve the problem is to cancel the competition and invite all the companies to negotiate openly.