The Flemish public transport authority De Lijn has announced a change to its selection criteria for a major order of clean buses, after pressure from the region’s government.
De Lijn has until 2030 to being its fleet of 2,300 vehicles (buses, trams and metro trains) up to EU standards for carbon neutrality.
However at present, the authority has only 16 buses on the road. And so, at the end of 2019, it issued a call for tenders for a massive order of 970 electric buses and the associated infrastructure for charging – a contract worth a total of €1.1 billion.
However in the summer of last year, the contract was cut to only 200 buses. But at the same time it made its selection criteria tougher: only companies that had previously supplied an order of 150 electric buses could apply.
The main effect of that was to rule out participation in the contest for the contract by Belgium’s largest bus company, Van Hool, based in the village of Koningshooikt near Lier in Antwerp province.
The company had concentrated its efforts on green bus development in recent years on hydrogen and hybrid vehicles, and despite a stellar record in bus-building, did not meet the strict quota.
Flemish mobility minister Lydia Peeters (Open VLD) called a halt to the procedure at the end of last year, concerned that a contract that arbitrarily excluded a Belgian builder was unsatisfactory.
European law insists that any public contract above a certain value has to be opened up to tender from any company in the EU. Outright protection of national firms is strictly forbidden, but there is nothing to stop a government from requiring contracts do not exclude home-based companies.
Yesterday the board of De Lijn agreed to adapt its selection criteria so as not to exclude valid applicants, which will allow Van Hool to apply along with VDL, a Dutch company with a construction facility in Roeselare in West Flanders.
By contrast to Van Hool, VDL has produced more than 1,000 fully electric buses since 2018, and already fulfilled the previous criteria.
The new specifications for the order of the first e-buses from De Lijn will be sent out in April. The award is scheduled for August. De Lijn’s intention would be to order 20 or 30 copies twice from two manufacturers and to continue with the contract on that basis. The planned investment of 970 e-buses, including charging infrastructure, initially had a budget of more than 1 billion euros.