The usage levels of the Limerick public bike scheme showed a large decrease in the last year falling by 20%. The National transport Authority (NTA), whom run the scheme, cited improved bus services in Cork and Galway as a reason for a decrease in those two cities. They cited no reason for the decrease in the scheme in Limerick. The regular users of the scheme in Limerick already know the reasons for its failures. The bikes and stations are poorly maintained and unreliable; pedals fall off bikes during usage; gears don’t work; stations remain closed and have never reopened; Stations in Colbert station or LIT have taken, or are taking, years to materialise. To understand why the National transport Authority have facilitated and enabled this to happen we have to go back to the start of the scheme.

In 2014 the NTA awarded the contract for the Limerick, Galway, Cork Bike Scheme to Telfourth Consortium, a consortium set up purely for this bid. That consortium consisted of the following:

  • Tracetel SA (based in France)
  • West Ireland Cycling Limited (based in Galway)
  • Centre d’Initiative et Gestion Locale (based in Luxembourg);
  • Mobile Research Solutions Limited (trading as ParkbyText and based in Dublin). Jim Moore of ParkbyText is the CEO of the Telfourth Ltd.

According to NTA Board minutes from January 2018  it was decided by NTA to extend the Telfourth Ltd contract for another 5 years to run this scheme (so from 2019 to 2023)

” 6. Procurement – Mr Creegan outlined the background to the proposed extension of the contract awarded to Telfourth Limited in May 2014 for the supply, installation, maintenance and on-going operation of public bike share schemes. Following discussion the Board approved the extension of the contract with Telfourth Limited for a further 5 years.” (NTA Board Minutes, 2018)

It is noted that Telfourth’s trading name is An Roher Nua. The last accounts filed for Telfourth Ltd, when their contract was renewed last year, were in 2017 and showed the company as being insolvent, having made a loss of 338k.

Two original consortium partners are now completely estranged from the group and were at the time the contract was renewed. Tractel SA issued an injunction on April 13th 2017 seeking an Order from the High Court restraining the NTA and Telfourth Ltd from using products that infringe its registered designs and technology. Indeed, the French ambassador was continuing to raise concerns last year on behalf of the French company in relation to this. This company themselves have reached out to me on several occasions as I have been raising concerns in relation to the scheme for many years. They are a well-respected company with contracts throughout Europe. In one conversation I had with them, they told me that they have never experienced anything like they have with the National Transport Authority in Ireland. Tractel’s high court action against Telfourth remains ongoing.

Similarly, Irish-based West Ireland Cycling Limited was brought into the consortium in order to fulfill criteria in relation to bike mechanic experience at the tendering stage. The company commenced legal proceedings against Telfourth in 2015, soon after the bike scheme commenced, due to exclusion from the project. Unfortunately, Liam Codd (RIP), director of West Ireland Cycling died very suddenly from a heart attack in 2016 so I am unsure of the status of legal proceedings currently. Through many reports I have had with Liam’s friends and family I have heard he was a man passionate about cycling, whom ran an excellent business and was placed under enormous stress as a result of legal proceedings they were forced to pursue against Telfourth.

There are serious questions that need to be addressed concerning why the NTA has re-awarded this contract to An Roher Nua that, as a consortium, no longer exists.

  1. Telfourth Ltd appeared to be an insolvent company when their contract was renewed
  2. Two main consortium partners are no longer partnered in this scheme so how can the previous contract be renewed and still stand?
  3. Environmental commitments were apparently a factor in Telfourth being awarded the initial contract, as they indicated they would have a fleet of three electric vehicles. They did not fulfill this requirement. Current vans are not electric and are on lease from Renault. Why did NTA renew their contract when so many contractual obligations have not been met?
  4. It has taken An Roher Nua three years to source certain parts for bike stations in Limerick . Similarly, it is questionable whether An Roher Nua bike mechanics are accredited and trained as none are currently registered with the Irish Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association. This is placing public safety at risk.
  5. I have spoke directly with the NTA and Telfourth on a number of occasions in relation to the scheme. I am frequently told that ‘anti-social behaviour’ is a reason for poor upkeep of scheme in Limerick and reason for closure of stations. I have yet to see any evidence for this and when asked for same am told that it is anecdotal evidence from their bike mechanics.

Telfourth’s related company, Urbo, is now showing a similar pattern of behaviour. Urbo and Telfourth share the same directors. Urbo, a stationless bike scheme, were awarded contracts in Dublin and UK in the last few years.  UK councils are now unable to contact Urbo since they just abandoned the scheme. Urbo were given the licence by Dublin City Council in 2018 to provide stationless bikes but never deployed any bikes even after being offered extensions to get the scheme up and running. Urbo’s financial statement from last year report ‘poor usage figures and significant vandalism’ as a the reasons why they had to abandon the schemes in the UK.

urbo

Today we hear the news of a significant decrease in users across all three cities. There are many reasons why this may be the case. However, I know what I have learnt in relation to the oversight and governance of the scheme by the NTA is something that must be addressed urgently if we are to change the fortune of the public bike scheme in regional cities.