RAILWAY ROAD TRANSPORT BILLS.
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it so we can fix it.
Evidence for the Light Railways and, by Mr. Shrapnell-Smith, for the Hauliers and Road-transport Operators.
MR. J. C. CRAIG, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee of Middlesex County Council, in his evidence before the Joint Select Committee on the railway road transport Bills stated that the Middlesex tramway system had suffered from omnibus competition. He considered that the railway companies' remedy in London was to extend their suburban services and co-ordinate with the road-transport people. The case of the railways was not the same as that of the municipal tramways, as the tramways and the omnibuses were running on the same routes or parallel routes.
Mr. Sydney Gareke, of the London and Provincial Omnibus Owners' Association, recalled, put in a table showing the results of tests of traffic on roads made by representatives of railway and road-transport companies jointly in the Midlands and North of England between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. on June 7th, 8th and 9th last. The passengers totalled 337,580, the proportions being: private motor vehicles, 27.72 per cent.; omnibuses, 68.19 -per cent.; and motor coaches, 4.09 per cent.
Mr. Tyldesley Jones, K.C., who appeared for the National Road Transport Employers' Federation, submitted to the committee that, whilst the railways • claimed that road competition was diminishing their revenue, it was clear from the table put in by Mr. Quircy, vice-president Finance and Service, L.M.S. Co., that the greater part of the drop in total receipts in the period 1923 to 1927 was in respect of non railway net receipts for example, docks, hotels and investments.
There was a heavy drop in coal and coke traffic, which was not subject to road competition, but in traffic which was subject to road competition the railway companies had materially increased their revenne. It had been hinted by the railway representatives that if the Bins were not passed they would have to increasetheir rates, hut the railway c,ompanies knew that the real wayto increase net revenue was to reduce the rates. Whilst the committee had been sitting the companies had been before the Railway Rates Tribunal making out a case for charging special rates.
He maintained that the Bills would not brine traffic to the railways unless they could kill competition, and even if they could do that the gain would be small and expensive to the trader. It was to the interest of the trader and the public that the railways should be efficient and it was not in the public interest that they should be the only carriers of goods and that the standard revenue should be achieved at all costs.
Anomalies in Railway Charges.
Mr. P. R. Turner, vice-president of the National Road Transport Employers' Federation, in the course of his evidence spoke of the supineness of the railway companies and gave examples of their collection and delivery charges, which he declared were anomalous and contributed to the transfer of certain traffic such as furniture to road-transport companies.
Mr. H. P. Macmillan, K.C., -cross-examining, asked If the Witness's contention was that if those anomalies were corrected the railways would be able to recover such traffic. 'Witness replied that they were already doing so. In so far as the railway companies' charges were unduly low he thought they should give up collection and delivery services.
Mr. H. F. Bidder submitted the ease for seven light railway .companies petitioning against the Bills. He said the function of companies was to provide railway communication between areas which were mostly
agricultural and the principal lines with which they joined. Their existence depended on that kind of traffic and they feared the opposition of the railway companies' road services. If the light railways were crushed out, the agricultural communities would be deprived of facilities for sending their goods by the railways because the mechanical road-transport service would not be an effective substitute. He suggested the following new clauses for the safeguarding of the interests of the light railways: "The company shall not exercise the powers of this Act so as directly or indirectly to divert or abstract traffic from the railways of any of the following companies (a list of the light railway companies then following).
Mr. Shrapnell-Smitifs Evidence.
Mr. E. S. .Shrapnell-Smith, chairman of the Com
mercial Motor Users AssOciation and president of the National Council of the Association, was the principal witness at last Tuesday's sitting of the committee. In the course of his evidence he said that the Commercial Motor Users Association bad a membership. of about 5,000, the members owning about 112,000 road motor vehicles. Twenty-five per cent. of the members were road-transport contractors, owning 16,000 vehicles and averaging about 13 vehicles per registered member. The membership also included about 500 owners of motor coaches, representing about 3,000 vehicles. Ancillary road users, or contractors plying their vehicles for hire, numbered 3,250, owning about 80.000 road vehicles. All the petrol companies belonged to the Association, and 'those companies alone owned about 8,000 read vehicles. The National Council of the Association had agreed unanimously to oppose these Bills.
The raising of the railway rates in 1920, he continued, gave a great impetus to road transport. It was only comparatively recently that the railways had -begun to offer facilities such as would attract traffic back to their lines He thought they ought to be able very largely to get their traffic back by offering up-to-date facilities.
Mr. Arthur Moon, K.C. (for the Commercial Motor Users Association) : Why is your industry alarmed at the prospect of the railway companies having the powers they seek in these Billsl—Beeause of the incidence of practices which are entirely exceptional and peculiar to the railways. The railway companies say they only want to come on the roads on the same terms as anyone else, but that is sophistical. The railways, La contributory value, have a reserve that cannot be measured.
Inreply to Lord Darling, a member of the committee, witness said his view was that road services should i.e conducted on their own economic basis and not subsidized by several millions a year of . contributory value.
Sir Henry Cautley, a member of the committee: Would you agree that road hauliers should have their rates axed by a rates tribunal as in the case of the railways?—So much of our work . is purely private hiring and job work that it would not be possible. Casual hiring forms the bulk of our work.
Replying to further questions on the subject of rates, Mr. Shrapnell-Smith said: ." I have explored this subject exhaustively in order to work out a scale and I must confess that .1 am beaten. I hope the committee may succeed. where I have failed."
Counsel: You de not think. any safeguards could be inserted in the 13lIle to protect road hauliers against the railways if they obtained these powers?—We have been unable to work out any each safeguards. .
Counsel said it had been suggested that there might eventually be a monopoly of road hauliers and asked witness whether he considered that likely.
Mr. Shrapnell-Smith : It would be impossible to have a monopoly of road hauliers with the position of transport as it is at present. Competition on the road.: is exceedingly keen.
Counsel asked whether the rating relief of £4,000,000 to the railways that was to be passed on to heavy industries would not in effect subsidize the carriage of heavy traffic by the railways.
Mr. Shrapnell-Smith: We think that Mr. Churchill, as he said in his speech, is holding the balance between the railways and the roads, but we think he has gone too far. We had a deputation to him the other day, but we got nothing out of him. (Laughter.) In reply to further questions; witness said he considered that the £1,600,000 paid by the railway companies towards the upkeep of the roads was a very small sum for the use they made of the roads and their dependence on them. Of the total annual expenditure of £53,000,000 on the roads, the motor owners paid about £40,000,000—or getting on to 80 per cent. on the new scale.
Mr. H. P. Macmillan, K.C., who appeared on behalf of the promoters of the Bills, asked witness whether the views he had been expressing before the committee on behalf of the Commercial Motor Users Association coincided with his own views?
Mr. Shrapnell-Smith: They do to-day. (i.aughter.)
Counsel: I have a copy of the Railway Gazette of January 15th, 1926, in which there is a report of a very interesting discussion in which you took part on the question of the future of road transport.
Witness: I do not read the Railway Gazette.
Do you read Modern Transport ?—Yes. (Laughter.)
Well, it is there also.
Witness : I would prefer to take it from the official report of the Great Western Railway.
A Change of Opinion.
Witness agreed that on that occasion he expressed the view that there was no need for any apprehension if the railways chose to come on the roads and that he would not be opposed to their having such powers. He had changed his views because of new facts that had come to his knowledge. The main facts were the extent of contributory value and the very great expansion of the hire-purchase system in respect of commercial motor vehicles. 13y the reference to contributory value ltd meant that the railways would be able to weight their resources unfairly, making a loss on certain services in order to eliminate competition.
Mr. Macmillan: Do you think that the railway cornponies 'with the _facilities they already possess for giving road-transport services should not be entitled to do so in the public interest?--It depends where it is going to land you. In the end I think that any ground on which better services can be given to the public commends itself to everybody, but if, in the end, other people are going to be forced out of business I do not think so.
Then, it is a monopoly of which you are afraid?— I say that, in spite of the witnesses who have been called, there is nothing to prevent it and there is no protection to road hauliers. Nor is there anything to implement the promise given by Major Glyn in the second reading debate that such protection would be given.
It is the ultimate apprehension of a monopoly?-11 Is the unfair competition due to a road-transport service not carrying the expense it would carry if it were a separate business.
Is it your view that the railway companies have been very active in endeavouring to provide facilities n40. for traffic?—Yes, they are now, but they could have been more active in the past.
We are waking up under your stimulus?—(laughter) —Yes.
Then, self-help with their existing powers is your remedy for the railways?—With their existing powers and the new powers they have had since January.
In reply to further questions, Mr. Shrapnell-Smith said the only effective protection that could be given to road hauliers would be that all road services instituted by the railways should be run on their own economic footing without recourse to contributory value. That would be a large measure of protection, but he was afraid it was not workable.
Mr. Macmillan: And consequently protection can only be given by the rejection of these Bills?—That is what we think.
This concluded Mr. Shrapnell-Smith's evidence.
Mr. C. Le M. Gosselin, managing director of Messrs. H. Viney and Co., haulage contractors, Preston, gave evidence to show that haulage firms made very small profits. He found from inquiries that certain firms with a combined, capital of over £186,000 made a net profit of £3,680 in 1925, being a return of 1.9 per cent.
In cross-examination, he said his objection to the Bills was based on the principle that the road-transport industry had been built up with a view to giving the community an independent alternative and competitive form of transport. With their financial superiority the railway companies with the powers they sought would be enabled practically to control road transport in the future in their own interests. Replying to the chairman, he said he could not devise any clause for the protection of the interests for which he spoke which they would be able to enforce on the railway companies without the prospect of carrying litigation right up to the House of Lords.
Case for the Road Authorities.
The committee then heard the case on behalf of County Councils; in England and Wales as road authorities.
Mr. E. K.C., in his opening speech said the competition of the railway companies on the roads could not be regarded as fair competition because the railways had a margin of superiority—including greater wealth, superior, organization, and contributory value—which was not due to their energy or efficiency, but to the opportunities Parliament had given them. They would not be catering for 'a 'public need, as it was admitted that their object was to improve their revenue by recapturing traffic that was already being carried. The authorities he represented submitted a clause to be inserted in the Bills which provided that a railway -company, before running a service on a road, should contribute towards the cost of adapting the road to the traffic proposed to be carried. The just and equitable thing, they considered, was to assimilate the procedure to be adopted to that adopted in the case of municipalities running bus services outside their own boundaries. They also proposed that the receipts of the railway companies from road transport should be included, for the purposes of rating, with the receipts of the railways as they were to-day.
Capt. Pretyman, who gave evidence on behalf of the County Councils' Association, said the Association wished to protect the rural ratepayer. It was unreasonable, he considered; to place a further charge on the rural ratepayer merely in order to enable the railways to compete more successfully with existing road-transport undertakings, There is a probability that the committee, which has sat continuously since April 26th with the exception of the Whitsuntide adjournment, will conclude its inquiry early next week. _