Distribution trends: in era of rapid change
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y John Darker AMBIM F no time in the past decade has been more worth while — or esented a greater challenge — take .a broad view of distribum. The uncertainties are numerts and even the most likely preaions may be proved false in the ent. Sensible, cost effective, disbution planning for vehicles with 10-year life expectancy takes on crystal ball aspect.
The much shorter operating life vehicles in most branches of tribution does not add greatly the ease of forecasting or finan1 budgeting. Compared with the :k-up services that distribution Taves, the provision of hardre, in the form of vehicles, is easiest part of the problem.
3efore looking at some distribu operations as now — or in the y recent past — practised, it I be useful to sketch in some key nents, since these give rise to present imponderables.
he order in which these factors set down is not important ugh distribution and transport lagers may well wish to place n in the order of their choice. guarantee can be given that the relevant factors are inled; the reader must decide himself what is missed out or t should be given greater or lesser stress in any attempt to evaluate the effect.
1. The fuel crisis: Much current talk about the oil bonanza from the North and Celtic seas may or may not prove to be optimistic. The European Economic Commission, if anyone, should be able to make sound judgments for the future. In a statement on a new policy for energy, issued in June the EEC experts stressed that the rate of increase in the use of energy of all kinds, but particularly petroleum products, must be reduced without curbing the growth of the European Gross National Product, estimated at 4.5 per cent per annum.
The EEC posed the target: crude oil consumption should reach its peak in 1980 and return to its 1973 level around 1985. Oil consumption would be used mainly as a motor fuel and as a raw material; by inference, it would not be used so much for central heating, and there are proposals to restrict the use of natural gas and petroleum products in power stations.
It needs little imagination to appreciate that — given a continu ance of current trends in production and marketing — a restriction in the use of crude oil products to 1973 levels in 1985 will pose huge problems. Sir Reginald Wijson, in an admirable paper pre sented to a Financial Times conference on energy conservation, has demonstrated that road haulage is unlikely to lose its predominance to any other form of transport in the foreseeable future because it is not relatively waste ful in its use of fuel. In the long run, the position of suitably structured and well managed road haulage undertakings may actually improve in a climate of strict energy conservation. Lighter vehicles of greater carrying capacity operating on an improved road network will, of course, increase the utility of lorries.
2. Environmental factors: It is necessary to look some way ahead. Reorganizational problems, including vital road improvements, will be with us for many years. Our population of 56m will rise to nearly 70m by the year 2000 at present growth rates, needing the equivalent of 12 new Binninghams, and so another 6m acres of land will be covered with bricks and concrete. Although some 80 per cent of people live in urban areas there is a net migration of people to suburbs, even satellite towns. Our cities could become ghettos for the under-privileged.
Another 20m vehicles, mostly cars, on top of the present 15m vehicles of all types, could appear on British roads by 2000 AD. If all present vehicles were used all the time, urban delivery problems would be infinitely more difficult than they are today. Professional transport operators must hope that car use will continue to be constrained in the interests of distribution efficiency.
The many new transport and distribution premises called for to serve an expanding — and hopefully more affluent — population will entail arduous and expensive planning applications in an era of participative planning, with public intervention. Transport executives must expect this, prepare for it, and hope that their trade associations will be able to influence central and local government to support justified developments.
3. Railways: Mr Richard Marsh, Railways Board chairman, admitted in a recent talk to the London and District Society of Chartered Accountants that British Rail was "totally and fundamentally non-viable". "British Rail" he said, "will never, without massive financial assistance, show a profit."
All political parties in Britain now seem willing to subsidize rail services heavily. Whatever action is taken by Government — quantity licensing, more onerous road taxation, infrastructure charging such as is urged by the EEC Commission — British Rail's route mileage, currently 11,600 miles, compares poorly with 209,000 miles of road (and a mere 1,000 miles of commercially usable canals). At great cost it would be possible to send more trunk traffic by rail if large industrial sites not already equipped with rail sidings were so equipped. To add to the cost of new sidings BR's wagon fleet needs to be comprehensively re-equipped with modern, continuously braked, rolling stock.
Transport 2000, the environmental pressure group largely financed by the National Union of Railwaymen, says that BR has already evolved a strategy plan for a national grid of wagon-load services, supplementing companytrain load traffic, and largely achievable over the 197478 period — subject to resources being mac available. The trains would run i Freightliner speeds — 75mp — covering 100 to 500 miles ( more overnight.
Says Transport 2000: "Collei tion and distribution of wagoi from the terminals of the nation grid network would be organizx and controlled by local territoi managers. The quality of servi4 provided would be much highl than that in the past due to in proved transit times and betti reliability due to computer-col trolled wagon transits (BR TOP Programme) and clearly defim management responsibilities."
Transport 2000 envisag wagons with a payload capacity up to 25 tons. The wagons wou be covered and suitable for t. rapid loading and discharging pallets, "perhaps with roller floc to facilitate loading". Since t planned wagon production rate only 1,000 a year — estimat to be worth lm tons of traffic r year — a larger wagon producti is urged by this rail presst group. (Compared with road ha age the rail wagon productiv seems very low.) The organization wants priv; sidings to be installed, where p sible, at factory sites and esta now handling more than 500 tc a week.
More significantly, Transp 2000 wants all new factories t warehouses above a certain to have private siding facilit and it urges urban councils v. populations above 50,000 pea to provide distribution cem combining road, rail and, wF possible, waterborne transp "for the receipt of full wagon-I traffic, less than full load tra and containers". These distri tion centres, it is argued, wc id the need for large articud lorries to make multiple ps in towns and cities.
ad oriented here is nothing new in this , apart from the bringing toer of all transport modes, At would be possible only in rarest of instances. Distribupeople may expect to be ined in local arguments as to most appropriate sites for :loping peripheral depots for m warehousing and distribuand whether these should 'holly road oriented.
le initiative of Transport MinisFred Mulley and his pressor, Mr John Peyton, in canng some 100 of the country's :st firms as to the prospects heir sending more goods by must be noted. In the extrac(quarry, etc) industries, a West Country quarry group rail as well as road haulage. does Hoveringham Gravels, latter doing so because of its for railway land for concrete r plants.
bid to build an oil refinery at Marshes, Isle of Grain (Kent) h was turned down two years because of inadequate road is, I believe, being reconsidby the DoE. It has been re ported that planning permission might be granted for the refinery, a jetty, rail terminal facilities and for pipelines between the refinery and rail terminal. Unless alternative road access is arranged and approved a rail-only facility, inland, would be an ominous portent for the future.
Packaging: Almost every material used for packaging, unit loading, etc, is either scarce or expensive. From the ubiquitous wooden pallet to the housewife's milk bottle, distribution managers face continual anxiety as to the future supply position. New forms of packing, or stowage methods requiring no protective packing at all, may have to ,be considered with obvious effects at the transport "interface". The environmental influence makes an impact in packaging. Non-returnable pallets of synthetic material, for example, would soon cause an outcry if they were not readily destructable — or pilferable!
Labour relations: As well as being heavily affected by labour troubles outside their own companies, distribution managers often face internal disputes whose settlement, on almost any terms, may seem imperative if major harm to production and marketing departments is to be avoided. Regardless of pay norms, social compacts, and legislative restraints, there have been recent instances of distribution networks being compelled to pay groups of workers well above average pay increases. It is increasingly recognized that road transport does not have to stop in its en tirety to cut commercial jugular veins. Hence the need for transport and distribution managers to be knowledgable, even adept, at labour relations.
The political background: Transport managers have endured much in the way of restrictive legisla tion in recent years and the need to become reconciled to shorter working hours, metrication, tachographs and staff participation does not need to be stressed.
The possible nationalization of over-five-vehicle fleets, as recently urged by the Transport and General Workers' Union, and endorsed by the Trades Union Congress, would naturally cause a huge outcry in road haulage.
The restrictions which might be imposed upon own-account operations, notably the prevention of carriage for hire or reward, seem remarkably stupid, even though this is a widespread Common Market attitude. It would seem relevant, in rebutting this possible policy, to take a leaf from the environmentalists, book and point to the improved use of road space that back-loading of own-account vehicles makes possible.