Ulster's freight freedom is not all honey
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WHEN in 1930 the Republic of Ireland introduced its brand of carrier's licence, the general rule of "what you have, you hold" was applied. Existing carriers were invited to tell the authorities what they carried and to where, and they were subsequently licensed to continue doing so. There has, I understand, been very little change in the licensing conditions since then.
Certainly such a system left little room for objection except perhaps from the applicant. In sharp contrast the licensing system in Great Britain, far from being simple, has become more complicated as each year passes. In fact it becomes more complicated by the week, as dozens of cases are argued out at public inquiries, reargued before the Transport Tribunal and—in one instance— before the Court of Appeal.
Between these two extremes, one feels, there must lie an effective yet simple system and it is perhaps fitting that the happy medium has been found in Ulster.
There, back in 1964, Mr. W. Craig, MP, who was then Minister of Development, set in motion the events leading to the Ulster road freight licensing scheme which became operative in June last year.
.Application for a road freight operator's licence in Ulster is not heard at a public inquiry, nor is it subject to objections from other operators. It does not follow, however, that all applications are granted, nor is it simple to enter the industry. Applications are examined by the Ministry of Development before they are granted. In addition to the details needed in Great Britain, applicants must also prove that they are financially stable. At the moment there are 905 registered operators in Ulster, running almost 3,000 vehicles. In addition there are 45,000 vehicles operating on own-account work, which do not require to be registered.
The big operator in Ulster is Northern Ireland Carriers Ltd., owned jointly by the Transport Holding Company and the Northern Ireland Government. Big companies produce big names and Trevor H. Thornton, the managing director, is one big name which emerged when UTA was broken up on the eve of road haulage in Ulster being freed. Colleague Brian Cottee dealt with NIC in detail in COMMERCIAL MOTOR on June 4 1965. The early enthusiasm displayed by Trevor Thornton has been maintained and, as one would imagine, his Stateowned organization carries the bulk of Ulster's traffic.
How can a carrier expand in an area as small as Ulster? Were it not for near neighbour the Republic of Ireland, saturation point would soon be reached. The signing of the cross-border agreement, however, opened up new pastures for the northern hauliers. NIC operates a twice-weekly return service from Belfast to Dublin for parcels and sundries. In addition, it has developed general haulage traffic which averaged 230 loads a month during the last four months of 1966. Of the North-South general haulage traffic, 40 per cent of the vehicles are backloaded. NIC, although State-owned, is operated on a commercial basis and Trevor Thornton is making strenuous efforts to reduce dead mileage to nil. He told me "I am hopeful that the balance will soon be achieved".
In October, NIC was successful in obtaining traffic from Dublin to the USAF base at Londonderry. This traffic had been the preserve of CIE, its southern counterpart, for 20 years. In addition to a daily service to the south, NIC is running twice weekly to Dublin. I have heard of Customs delays at the borders when containers of smalls traffic are delayed for days on end. The solution here will obviously be Customs clearance at the point where the bulk load is being broken down.
The present cross-border agreement allows greater freedom to Northern hauliers than it does to those in Eire and pressure for such an arrangement will have to come from the Ulstermen.
In addition to Eire traffic, another source of traffic will soon be available. The reciprocal licensing arrangements between Ulster and Great Britain will soon become operative. The Republic does not encourage road vehicles through its ports and therefore traffic is confined to container loads. It is feasible that smalls or part loads originating in Great Britain for delivery to Southern Ireland could travel via Belfast or Larne and thereafter cross the border. The entire run could be carried out by an Ulster haulier.
One company in Ulster which appears to save benefited from the proposed reciprocity is Northern Ireland Trailers. In the North-Western traffic area it was granted 11 additional trailers without opposition.
is one unit of Coast Lines, which also embraces Belfast Steamship Co., Link Lines Ltd., Ulster Ferry Trailers and AngloIrish Transport. It can readily be appreciated that this organization plays a big part in the transport industry in Ulster.
Trunking vehicles depend on collection and delivery vehicles for their traffic and the largest C and D fleet, I believe, is that operated by Lawther and Harvey. Mr. Ross Campbell is managing director of the company which is also part of THC. In addition, he is also Northern Ireland's agent for ACCS.
Collection and delivery work is one of the real headaches of the transport operator. One load of parcels can create more trouble than 100 trunk vehicles. If a parcel misses a trunk vehicle in Ulster, it also means in most cases that it also misses a sailing. To ensure that there are the minimum of such mistakes, Ross Campbell has introduced systems to assist staff and reduce fatigue by noise.
For example, on the loading bank at Lawther and Harvey's premises, parcels are segregated by a colour code into bays. Documentation stands, signboards, and appurtenants are all painted in one colour: white for Preston, or blue for Glasgow, etc. etc. Thus mislaid packages and documents are rare.
In total, ACCS and Lawther and Harvey operate 140 vehicles a day on collection and delivery work and unit loads. Such a volume of traffic obviously necessitates a great deal of communication and Lawther and Harvey receive 500 telephone calls a day. Telephone bells have been replaced by coloured lights. The result is that errors through noise fatigue are greatly reduced.
Two types of traffic in the new road haulage industry of Ulster are still giving cause for concern. Livestock is the traffic which no one wants. Its volume does not warrant large-scale operation and rates offered are so uneconomic that the large operators do not want to handle it. The reverse side of the coin is seen in parcels traffic, which everyone appears to want. Rates are so low that they are suicidal—E30 a week for a van is common—and for small consignments one can hire at 22s. 6d. per ton.
The giants are not unduly worried. Their efficiency will obviously assure their future. There are however, in Ulster, many men who are neither foolish enough to operate at these ridiculous rates nor big enough to ride the storm; they are suffering. Many will eventually give up in despair.
On Christmas Eve 1966, one operator did just that. He put seven vehicles off the road because he was unable to compete and live. Yet these are the men a road haulage industry needs. The men who meet the peaks, who can be depended upon to do the job and who charge a rate commensurate with the task. Unfortunately many of them will go and when this happens parcels traffic and general goods traffic will be in the hands of the efficient giants or the cut
rate "gypsies". The latter will disappear, only to be replaced by others who believe cut-rate parcels traffic is the easy way to a first 1 m. This is a situation which not even the Ulster road freight licensing system can cope with.
Who can help these operators? Well, in Ulster there is an organization which might well be described as a mini-RHA. If assistance is possible I feel that the Road Transport Association of Ulster can supply it. The assistant general managers of Belfast Steamship Company, Mr. N. E. Harper, and Mr. D. P. Neill, are chairman and honorary secretary respectively of the RTA. They may lack experience in dealing with such situations but surely the RHA could pass on advice, especially since its present national chairman is so closely associated with RTA officials in a business capacity.
One problem, common to both RHA and RTA, is membership. Neither can boast a 100 per cent return. The RTA by virtue of the size of its area has the better chance of achieving success. Certainly it will take a strong, active association to protect the link man, whom the fly-by-night operators are destroying.
Behind every new system, there must be efficient planners and this applies to Ulster freight licensing. Mr. J. D. Irvine, senior assistant to the Dept. of Development, has nursed the system along. Mr. T. McKechnie designed the documents and helped to frame the legislation. Mr. McKechnie has now been presented with the man-size task of keeping the system working.
In a country where transport was first a complete free for all, then almost a State monopoly, and now has been freed again, the tendency has been for people either to ignore the new law, or rush to jump on the band-wagon. It would be easy for Mr. McKechnie to dash behind a protective barrier of legislation to shelter from problems which any licensing system creates. This he refuses to do. He spent a few weeks in the office of the North Western licensing area in Great Britain. He has already concluded that too much legislation creates its own problems.