If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it so we can fix it.
REACTION tests favoured by psychologists include the presentation to the subject of a list of words, on each of which he is asked to make some comment. According to the theory, his emotional tangles can be unravelled by an analysis of the words on which he has something more pungent than usual to say. If the tests were applied within the road haulage industry, one might find that emotionally charged words for British Road Services were "C-licence holders "; and "clearing houses" for many independent hauliers.
Some of the clearing houses themselves might react violently to the name of B.R.S. This is not surprising, for when B.R.S. more or less had the long-distance field to themselves, the clearing houses declined, and would no doubt do so again should the Socialists make good their threat of renationalization.
It is less understandable why B.R.S. and hauliers should have different objects of dislike. They have an obvious community of interests, and one would have supposed that, if B.R.S. felt so strongly about the C licence, the hauliers would feel the same. Sir Brian Robertson, chairman of the British 'Transport Commission, recently dropped a strong hint that hauliers should join other public carriers in deprecating the way in which the trader, gave them most of the rough, and kept the smooth for himself.
From the point of view of attracting public sympathy, Sit' Brian's experts have advised him well. His attitude is easy for the public to understand, although this does not, of course, make it the right attitude. If trade and industry have a certain volume of traffic to be carried in the year, the amount available for public transport declines each time another medium-weight or heavy C-licensed vehicle is put on the road. This is the kind of argument the man-in-the-street can appreciate. Whether it is true is another matter, and the doubt is not diminished by what the public could be expected to make of the haulier's pet aversion.
. Attracting Traffic For the case against the clearing house seems to be just the opposite of that against the C-licence holder, If there is indeed an annual tonnage of traffic for which the various forms of transport are in competition, the policy of hauliers —as of other types of carrier—must be to attract as much of the traffic as possible to their own vehicles.
The licensing system fixes the number of road haulage vehicles, and to that extent ensures a closed shop, although not a monopoly. Extra traffic secured by hauliers must, therefore, increase the average tonnage carried per vehicle. Among the methods used to get business, an important part is played by the personal approach of hauliers and their representatives. To this army of salesmen are added the staff of clearing houses, whose sole function is to persuade traders to send their goods by road haulage. It is true that most clearing houses have vehicles of their own, but, as these require A or B licences, the general argument is not affected. As a vehicle operator, the clearing house is no different from any other haulier. As a tout for traffic, one would have supposed without knowing anything of the subject, that the service provided by a clearing house easily justified the customary commission.
The haulier does not see things in this light, and indeed it is an altogether too simple view of the matter. Even if the clearing house from time to time brings a certain amount of new traffic into the common pool, it. more frequently aspires to change the direction of traffic already there. In the process, or so the haulier complains, the rate may be cut below an economic level.
Here lies the basic reason for the dispute, which often rises to the intensity of a feud, between clearing house and haulier. Perhaps it is not as one-sided as the haulier complains, and there are ways and means by which he can organize himself and his fellow operators to deal with the clearing house that is making a nuisance of itself.
The existence of clearing houses is the price hauliers have to pay for a competitive transport system. They must work out their method of keeping therniddleman in check within the confines of that system, rather than hope for restriction by legislation. When a clearing house -comes into their midst, it is idle for hauliers to cry for help, as though they were. sheep huddled together at the approach of a wolf.
Because it is natural for hauliers to think of restriction in the form of licences, their, first impulse is to demand the licensing of clearing houses. What they are really asking is for the Government to impose by .law a limitation on sub-contracting.
Ruining the Soil Every operator must have freedom to sub-contract, It is the natural method of spreading the load. However it is viewed; there is no way of making a legal distinction between sub-contracting by hauliers and the work of a clearing house. Much as they may dislike the idea, hauliers must accept that, in uprooting the clearing houses, they would be ruining the soil that nourishes themselves.
A strong case for legal action exists when a clearing house persistently hands traffic to operators whose vehicles are not qualified to carry it. Hauliers have the remedy in their own hands, and can, if they wish, pass information on to the authorities. The complaint must be accompanied by full details, which may take some trouble in compiling. No haulier should consider the trouble too great, for illegal running deprives him unfairly of traffic to which he has a right, and paradoxically lowers the reputation of genuine operators in the public mind.
The clearing house that keeps within the law should be able to win more established traffic than hauliers allow. It can gain a foothold' only if they have failed to organize themselves properly. To suggest that hauliers in a town carve the traffic up amongst them is, of course, absurd. The trader has too many checks and safeguards, including the. C licence. But the hauliers usually co-operate closely with each other, if only because none of them is able unaided to do all the work.
The most prominent operator in the locality, usually the man with the largest fleet, tends to be the one to whom the traffic gravitates. He finds himself sub-contracting a fair amount, to other local hauliers and to foreign-based operators seeking return loads. In his own interest, he will preserve the rate from becoming uneconomic, or from becoming excessive. To establish itself, a clearing house has to undercut the operator handling the bulk of the local traffic. It can get the goods carried only with the help of the other local hauliers. It would be futile to depend upon outside operators. If the existing rates are fair, and the service efficient, the leading haulier is justified in persuading his fellow hauliers to refuse the traffic when offered by the clearing house at a cut price. There is a reasonable certainty that the clearing house will find its services are not needed and will retire as gracefully as possible.