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11th September 1928
Page 27
Page 27, 11th September 1928 — NOTES FROM NORTHERN IRELAND.
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

The Belfast Inquiry Into the Corporation's Application for By-laws to Control Buses.

By Ulsterman.

SlitLYNDON MACASSEY, ICC., opened the ease for the Corporation's proposed by-laws in a speech of almost eight hours' duration, claiming for the Corporation a complete transport monopoly in the city. He strove to establish this claim by references to British Parliamentary and Transport Ministry decisions and to precedents drawn from various British cities.

One . may observe that there is an impression abroad in 'Ulster and in the Ulster capital that the Ulster Parliament and its Ministry of Home Affairs are now in complete control of Ulster's purely domestic affairs and that this inquiry is being held to consider by-laws proposed for the regulation of traThe in Belfast rather than in Sheffield, Leeds or even Manchester..

He had much to say about the Aberdeen clause, that e'ranny clause which forbids municipal enterprise to become a burden upon the rates. At one moment Sir Lyndon referred to this clause as if it were a bogey paralysing one enterprising Corporation; at another he invoked it as the saviour of the City in its fight against the paralysing buses. He seemed to forget that, if need be, the Ulster Parliament could modify this clause during the declining years of the tramway system, in the interest of the capital of Ulster and the invested capital of its citizens.

Sir Lyndon's main point appeared to be that trams are 110 match for buses, for he strongly urged that if the buses were not brought under the control of the proposed by-laws the trams would have to be scrapped. This means that, unless buses are banished from the central area, confined to remoin and inconvenient stands, charged for the use of those stands, and subjected to the literal " imposition " of a minimum fare of fourpence, the municipal trams will be quite unable to compete with them. And this is a defence of trams as a modern and economic mode of transport! Where does the interest of the travelling public come in?

Pro-tram Witnesses.

So profuse and whole-hearted was the evidence given in support of the by-laws that one can only pick out a few of the more astounding statements. For, .example, a Sheffield tramways manager, after admitting that a 100 per cent. increase of bus fares -over tram .fares is operating satisfactorily in Sheffield, is reported to have said that " the fourpenny minimum fare proposed • in the Belfast by-laws is very reasonable." When it was pointed out to the Sheffield expert that Sir Lyndon Macassey's statement that the whole of Mauchester is a prohibited area for buses is not 'correct, • he replied "It depends on what one has in mind." • Again, the new Belfast tramways manager declared that but for obligations in connection with the permanent way, the trains could successfully compete with the buses. Counsel for the .bus owners gently suggested that permanent ways are "incidental to tramways." If a tram were not a tram it might cOmpete with a bug. Once more the Belfast town clerk maintained that it was right to include Bedford Street in the schedule.. of traffic-congested areas. Bedford Streethas not yet stopped laughing.

The Town Clerk stated that the proposed by-laws were mainly aimed against traffic congestion, although opposition: ta the bus services "incidentally came into the picture."

Finally, when the assistant tramways manager was asked if -the .tramways had made any contribution to the city rates last year, he said; "No, except a continuing charge of £8,961 in respect of certain. rights," and when asked if that sum had been paid out of surplus he answered "No."

The Case for the Bus Proprietors.

Opening the case against the proposed by-laws, Mr. J. M. Whitaker, KC., showed that in law there was no right to claim a monopoly in a city in relation to transport. The -Act of 1884 did not give the corporation a monopoly, and until they came to recent legislation they had not

even the power to prescribe routes for buses. On the

contrary, it was recognized that there WAS a right of competition. That right fad been recognized in the 1840 Act. The Motor Vehicles Act of 1926 contained regulations founded on the idea that buses had a right to run in a town and that such traffic should be regulated. But the regulations in the proposed by-laws did not aim at the regulation of traffic, but at the elimination of competition in transport. That, according to the Court decisions quoted by the speaker, was an illegal use of such by-laws.

The Injustice of the By-law Proposals.

In a masterly' analysis of the by-laws Mr. Whitaker pointed out their inherent injustice, in the course of which he showed that " neither the tramways manager nor the chief traffic officer nor any single person whose business brought him into contact with the business requirements of the city had been consulted by the corporation as to the prohibited area, the prescribed routes or the starting places." The bas route restrictions were not in the public interests. Many hardships would be caused by them. The People within a radius of ten miles should be considered; they would be seriously inconvenienced. For example, shipyard workers are now carried by buses from Lisburn (7 miles from Belfast) to the Queen's Island (Harland and Wolff's) at 4s. per week ; under the proposed by-laws the workers would have to pay an extra 4s. per week. Mr. Whitaker urged that the by-laws were unworthy of a city which is not only the commercial but the political capital city of Nortliern Ireland. They were parochial by-laws. No city in England had any such prohibited area, nor in the matter of prescribed routes and minimum fares had any English city gone to such lengths. The declared object of the by-laws was to create a monopoly. The minimum fare had no other object. The corporation had formerly rejected a "B.O.C." and " Catherwood " proposal which would have brought £30,000 per annum to the municipal. funds. To-day, said Counsel, "if the trams were scrapped and the buses took over the transport of the city, and paid the corporation even one farthing per passenger, that would mean, on the basis of 104 million passengers, carried by the trams last year, £108,000 a year."

A Possible Compromise.

, At the close of his speech Mr. Whitaker said that if negotiations with the corporation with a view to a discussion of mutual interests 'and a ptissible agreement could be entered upon, the bus owners would be willing for such negotiations, though they were quite Prepared for a fight

to a finish. Sir Lyndon Miteassey having guardedly approved of this suggestion, Counsel on both sides conferred in private, but it was subsequently announced that the inquiry would be resumed, as usual, on the following morning.

Other Matters.

Various public bodies have protested against the traffic by-laws proposed, on the lines of the Belfast "bywords," by the Corporation of Derry. A Derry protest is being organized and even the rural district council. (once no friend of motor traffic) is up in arms against the anti-bus by-laws. Enniskillen, too, is fighting against the by-laws proposed for that town. It is a curious commentary on statements made at the Belfast inquiry to Ate effect that the overcrowding of trams is not dangerous, that the Belfast coroner has adjourned the inquest on a man who was killed by falling off the crowded platferm of an overcrowded tram. The coroner remarked upon the fact that trams are never, in Belfast, prosecuted for overcrowding, and in. sisted that some of the higher officials shall attend at the resumed inquest.

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