Netherlands: ‘dirty tricks’ make Keolis lose €900 million contract
French multinational transportation company, Keolis, has lost its initial €900-million contract definitively to provide ‘zero-emission’ public bus transport in three Dutch provinces for the next ten years.
The provinces Gelderland, Overijssel, and Flevoland, decided to break the contract after it turned out ‘dirty tricks’ were used to win the tender. ‘Fraudulous side letters’, secret agreements with Chinese bus makers cooked Keolis’ goose, Dutch news site Follow The Money (FTM) writes.
Buses for 17 million travelers
In September 2019, Keolis, which is owned for 70% by the French railway company, SNCF, won the tender for the region IJssel-Vecht for the period 2020-2030, starting in December. Yearly, some 17 million people make use of public transport in that area.
One of the main clauses was that the company had to make that transport zero-emission by choosing electric buses from a provider of its own choice. Keolis, which was servicing a large part of the area already, made a deal with Chinese manufacturer BYD to deliver 259 electric buses. BYD called it its biggest European contract so far.
Some dozen smaller electric buses were ordered from by origin Dutch truck and bus manufacturer Ginaf, now owned by the Chinese conglomerate CHTC. It infuriated a number of Dutch politicians, who shouted ‘Dutch buses first’ and wanted Dutch bus builder VDL to deliver the buses to guarantee jobs in the Netherlands.
But according to Keolis at that time, VDL couldn’t compete in price and couldn’t guarantee the buses to be delivered in time. It appears now Keolis didn’t have a rock-hard guarantee from the Chinese bus builders either.
According to FTM, some ‘side letters’ turned up recently in which the Chinese were exempted from fines or were assured they couldn’t be sued in case they wouldn’t deliver in time. This guarantee was a crucial condition for the provinces’ tender.
The Dutch CEO of Keolis himself broke the news they had found some ‘irregularities’ in the way the tender was won and notified the provincial governments. One of the operational directors whose signature was on the side letters was suspended internally and the fleet manager too.
Breaking off the contract
On Tuesday, the Dutch provinces decided to break off the contract with Keolis definitely on a base of fraud. A new tender will be issued for the concession that is expected to start in December 2022. That is probably music to the ears of contenders like bus companies Connexxion, Arriva, and EBS which missed the boat before.
Because it’s too late to replace them before December 2020, Keolis will be allowed to continue delivering the public bus service until December 2022. For this, it can use the by then delivered Chinese buses. It’s not clear Keolis will be allowed to compete for the new tender too.
At Keolis, which loses a quarter of its turnover with this contract, no official comments were given, despite the announcement on its website that the company will “respect the province’s decision and study the consequences”.