Humberside Wants the BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
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says Ashley. Taylor A.M.LR.T.E.
BEFORE I am written down as a haulier's enemy, let me say that I have no axe to grind. My objective in any article I may contribute to this series on the progress of denationalization is to record the facts, so far as I can ascertain them.
In testing the state of the market, one must clearly take a cross-section chosen, so far as possible, as typical.
Where transport users have made serious complaints I have in some eases questioned their attitude in not thrashing out matters with the operators concerned. The response is that, having more choice in transport now, they would rather give the next man a chance than enter into discussions with somebody who has failed.
• When I was in his district recently, Mr. Harold Hunter, an important operator and chairman of the Yorkshire (Hull) Area of the Road Haulage Association, put his members' point of view of the situation.
"As an Association we have not received any complaints from such organizations as the Transport Users' Committee of the Hull Chamber of Commerce," he said. "If we had not been giving a sound service at equitable rates there would have been a big kick coming. Of course, if it comes to producing numerous vehicles all at once, such as are sometimes needed at the docks, that is a thing that British Road Services can do. They have machines lying idle which the independent haulier, if he is efficient, has not.
"Since the sales of State-owned vehicles commenced, rates have definitely been reduced, which' may be regarded as a proof that transport is being run more efficiently. The new-found freedom of the operator to accept return loads. and otherwise to work in a manner not often allowed by permits, is one of the reasons for this greater economy of operation and for the subsequent lowering of charges."
Mr. H. T. Houfe, of Spear, Houfe and Co., Ltd., forwarding agents and warehouse keepers, said: "We are without prejudice and want only what will provide the best service for our customers. Our experience is that speed of loading and delivery have improved under, private enterprise, as compared with British Road Services, and at the same time rates have been lowered." Mr. Houfe went on to say that the best service received from B.R.S. wa,s in the early days, when units were, to a large extent, working on the same lines as under free enterprise. With reorganization that resulted in traffic for certain routes being channelled through particular depots, matters became less satisfactory. "With the return of private enterprise things are better than ever, so far as service is concerned," he observed.
From three separate sources on Humberside, however, I heard summings-up of talks that had taken place earlier between local businessmen. Let me now put on record these forthright views.
Nationalization brought damage to the road transport industry that could never be repaired, said one. He agreed that the new generation of hauliers was giving him and his , neighbours as good a service as B.R.S. at rather more advantageous rates, but, he averred, the need was not for the same sort of job being done by different people, but for a more intelligent approach, be the figures behind it a State organization or a private"company.
Transport Second Nature
"In my own experience, the man whom the Labour Government put out of business," he said, "was a working man who had made his way up a few rungs of the ladder. Economic circumstances had formerly forced that man to be interested in transport and that interest had become second nature, so if a cu,storper had an involved problem relating to the carriage of goods, this haulier would sit up until dawri, seeking the best solution.
"This was not because he was after extra profit, birt because he could not bear to see a job fall below the highest possible standard. As he did not spare himself, the men he had around him were the more willing to disregard rotas and routine.
"I don't know where he is now, but when he walked out, an everything-shuts-at-teatime policy started. After a few years of that outlook, the younger men who are coming back into the industry will not, even if they want to, be able to reproduce the old spirit."
The B.R.S. unit which had served his district to the best of its ability, said the speaker, had been replaced by a company which was obviously willing to do a routine job on accepted lines. But what he wanted was a person who had his heart in transport.
He was watching the activities of the professional transport organizations and in the future his traffic would find its way to the kind of man who was willing to give his spare time to exchanging views 'and talking about transport, rather than to one whose only ambition was to sell a certain quantity of haulage.
One transport manager Complained that industrialists had encountered too many of the salesman type, who affected to believe that users could largely mould their traffic to fit the routes and timings which it suited hauliers to operate.
B.R.S. Charges High Service given by B.R.S. had been satisfactory for 2 years claimed one director, but charges had been on the high side. "There cannot, by economic law,he said, ." be more than one price maintained in the same market for the same goods and so, with the arrival of competition, the State-controlled rates have been reduced. Unless somebody can prove that they will give a much more advantageous service at these figures," he said, "we will not make any change.
"In our business we ask only for a competent workman at a fair wage and whether the individual votes Labour or Conservative is no concern of ours. The suggestion has been made that somehow we are duty-bound to send traffic by freeenterprise hauliers as they may be regarded as transport's embodiment of the Conservative Party.
"Whatever anybody else does, we are not encouraging those who are trying to foist such an argument upon us. Transport in particular, and business in general, are not part of a political game, so we shall continue to use B.R.S. as long as they are available, do their job satisfactorily and are competitive on price. We are against monopoly, so are against nationalization. We are in favour of denationalization and free competition, and are quite happy with both the independent and B.R.S. in the arena."
Here I think it is fair to observe that some complaints made about the transport situation in Hull have little relation to denationalization. Many troubles have been created solely by pressure of demand which has arisen in consequence of Hull's double dose of dock strikes, one in August for about 14 days did the more recent stoppage of 10-12 days.
Mr.. T. W. Jackson, a director of Key Warehousing and Transport Co. Ltd., who have a big clearing-house and warehouse business in addition to operating 24 vehicles (13 on special A licences), said that in Hull the change-over had so far caused less disturbance of the services to the user than had been the case when nationalization was in progress.
The principal problems were created by pressure of demand which is necessitating his company working two 10-hour shifts a day on the loading bank. Mr. Jackson said that as B.R.S. settled down, rates for haulage tended to increase, but independent hauliers on Humberside were already reducing charges
Small Lots Handled
Refusals to handle small consignments, such as have aroused protests in other parts of the country, do not seem to have arisen in the East Riding area and Mr. Jackson told me that his company would handle anything, be it 1 lb. or 10 tons in weight, that their customers wanted moving. They appreciated the difficulties that might face an independent operator from a distance when offered loads made up of small lots.
For that reason they were willing to offer local warehouse accommodation and a delivery service for hauliers who might like to bring in such loads in bulk and to leave local distribution to the Key organization.
At Beverley, Mr. Arthur Watts, of Watts Bros., operators of an extensive parcels service throughout the East Riding, said that all their vehicles were on A licences, so the chances were that a substantial expansion of their distribution might be made after January 1. Already numerous demands had been received for deliveries outside the normal radius, because the public had not generally realized that the embargo was still in operation. At Howden, on the eastbound route from Hull, a substantial new garage is going up to accommodate the fleets owned by Hewson Bros. (Howden), Ltd., and Howson Bros, (Hull), Ltd., 'Companies which have acquired 11 vehicles from British Road Services; bringing their fleet to a total of 23.
Mr. J. Hewson, managing director, told me that they had been doing general haulage within 40 miles of Howden, but now covered the West Riding and South Yorkshire, and went as far afield as the Midlands and London. Among their important loads are agricultural goods, foodstuffs and alloys. They are proposing to tender for further units, I was told by Mr. Hewson, as the companies have as much Work as they can do.
In his experience, rates had not varied appreciably since the process of denationalization began.
A representative of a nationally known manufacturing organization in the Hull area said that good service had been received from private hauliers so far as their capacity would allow. Because of Hull's geographical location in relation to customers, industries needed extremely competitive rates, together with a first-class service. Where the traffic was suitable, they had every prospect of obtaining these facilities from the railways and it was for freeenterprise transport to offer commensurate conditions.
Up to the moment, there had been some evidence of a strong tendency to pick and choose so as to secure the lucrative traffic. In every sphere, he thought, there was need to take in what might be called "ballast work" and road transport must not think itself exempt. Generally, the independent haulier gave excellent service., especially in the speedy handling of goods on pallets, but the advantage lay with the big organization in such jobs as putting in numerous articulated trailers for overnight loading.
He had foundthat in some cases where instructions had been passed to particular hauliers for them to supply numerous vehicles within a limited period, the order had been
• agreed, but, on arrival, every lorry bore a different operator's name.
Whilst agreeing that sub-contracting might at times be necessary, my informant said he took care to select suitable fleets and was unwitting to accept substitutes which he had not approved. Furthermore, fair rates had been agreed, but in his estimation they were not such as to allow the deduction of some unknown percentage. He thought that in this situation there might lie an answer to reports which suggested that rates were being depressed by the actions of traders' transport managers.
One operator told me he thought that most of the complaints regarding free-enterprise haulage came from large organizations which demanded blocks of vehicles at short notice. Certainly, B.R.S. had resources which equipped them better to deal with fleet-size orders.
There was no reason why a number of different independent operators should not combine for work of this nature but he regarded these as early days for any pool of that sort. Before entering into grouping arrangements he would want to know more of the staffs, vehicles and methods of the other parties than it had been possible to discover up to the moment.
Not So Keen
" One difficulty," he told me, "is that the present-day traffic manager is too often not so keen as his predecevors. They were accustomed to sorting out their traffic and engaging vehicle by vehicle, perhaps from many different sources, as required. This seems to be too much trouble for the big organizations of today. The best answer might well be in Some form of group booking."
A well-known importer put forward the view that in an endeavour to make rates competitive, independent long-distance hauliers were committing their vehicles too fully. His concern had already tried out several operators, but not one had a good record in the matter of punctuality despite firm times being given for collections to take place. As a result, his organization had been placed in difficulty as, apparently owing, to disposals, B.R.S. could not deal adequately with their traffic.