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Councils to Run All Stage Services ?

12th September 1958
Page 68
Page 71
Page 68, 12th September 1958 — Councils to Run All Stage Services ?
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

MR. MORTON proposed that county councils and some other local authorities should, with the existing bus-operating municipalities, take over all the stage services in the country, including those of London Transport. The local authorities would be allowed to operate contract carriages for traffic originating in their own areas.

A separate body should be set up as part of the British Transport Commission to operate long-distance express services. This unit would be self-contained and controlled, as well as self-supporting. Its profits would be transferred to the Commission.

By these means, Mr. Morton thought, complete public control of bus operation would be assured without nationalization. He argued that people on the spot were most likely to know the needs and appreciate the problems of local stagecarriage operation. The elected representatives of the county council or corporation were well fitted to carry out this task. They were certainly in a far better position to exercise control than a c32 body operating from London, or indeed, the Traffic Commissioners.

Local authorities already constituted the largest body of stage-carriage operators in the country. They carried four times the total numberof passengers handled by the railways. Municipal control of buses was no less efficient than that of nationalized or private undertakings. A municipal undertaking stood on its own feet and was responsible to an elected body.

Staff Taken Over

Under Mr. Morton's scheme, technical and other staff of existing undertakings, whether owned by the B.T.C., B.E.T. or others, would be taken over by local authorities.

" The elaborate, lengthy and costly procedure 'of the Traffic Commissioners can disappear," he said. "Councils would have monopoly conditions in their own area, and the present licensing system would, therefore, be unnecessary.

" The seduction of fuel tax for public service vehicles only becomes a practical measure. The possibility of misuse of untaxed fuels in the hand S of councils, as responsible public bodies, would be extremely remote."

Mr. Morton doubted whether nationalized transport was operating on the lines envisaged in 1947. He criticized the appointment of professional soldiers as heads of the B.T.C., British Road Services and British Inland Waterways. "One may take leave to doubt whether the background of the soldier, particularly from the financial and trade union points of view, is an advantage in such a specialized and responsible field," he said.

The major part of the bus industry was, at least nominally, already in public hands. Public capital was responsible . for 80 per cent, of the passengers carried, 58 per cent, of the vehicles and 64 ter cent, of the mileage.

These figures were, however, deceptive. Although the B.T.C. had substantial holdings in B.E.T., the real power lay in company hands. Moreover, although the Commission held financial control of the B.T.C. companies, the reins remained almost in the same hands as before nationalization. The abortive area scheme for the north-east, put forward in 1949, was well conceived, and was a fair example of what one might expect under a nationalized system, but it was not the best method of dealing with local transport. The rights of the area board to be set up were so few, and the control proposed to be exercised from headquarters was so strict, that it would have been no more than a branch office of a London-based organization.

London Transport " Debunked " Using the example of London Transport to illustrate the dangers of nationalized stage-carriage operation, Mr. Morton declared; "To begin with, I think we should discount entirely the .mysticism With which London Transport sometimes' attempts to surround itself. For years, the special. conditions' of London operation have been quoted as -a reason for expensive operation. In fact, the 'high costs are the natural consequence of over-organization, arising from an operational unit which is, far too big for. stage-carriage work."

London Transport designed their own buses, which were much more expensive than those bought by other transport undertakings. The justification for them was said to be -that, although the initial cost was higher, the vehicles were expected to show savings in maintenance costs. In fact the opposite was the case The Chambers report on London Transport in 1955 showed that maintenance costs per vehicle-mile in Manchester were 3.08d., in Glasgow 3.50d., in Bir mingham 3.56d., in Liverpool 3.88d. and . . .

in London 4.36d. The average for all municipal undertakings was 2.82d.-13-d. a mile less than in London.

• On the mileage run by London buses in 1956, that amo'uht represented £2m. a year—twice the sum about which London Transport and the unions were in dispute last May.

False Economy

"Where is the economy in buying dearer buses which also cost more to run?" asked Mr. Morton.

"New" maintenance methods were now being introduced which had been common practice in the provinces for many years.

The bus strike in May had exploded the idea of public control of London Transport. Moreover, political interference manifested itself sharply.

High fares were the greatest contributor to London Transport's shrinking passenger traffic. An analysis of fares charged by the 26 largest municipal operators in England showed that for 3d. the average distance travelled was 1.43 miles, whereas in London it was only 1.07 miles. The corresponding distances travelled for 4d. were 2.23 miles and 1.60 miles; for 5d., 3.08 miles and 2.14 miles; irid for 6d., 4.04 miles and 3.22 miles.

There was only one municipality which, like London Transport, had a 3d.

minimum fare, whereas two corporations retained a lid. minimum, 20 charged 2d. and three nd. Moreover, London had no intermediate id. stages. Despite high fares, London Transport lost £124-m. between 1948 and 1955.

"My only object in dealing with London Transport in this way is to warn our planners that to extend the London method of controlling stage-carriage services to the entire country would be simply creating one huge inefficient and uneconomic machine," said Mr. Morton.

"I might go further and say that London Transport itself should be re-examined. I would suggest breaking down the Executive into four separate operating bodies, each responsible to a board, consisting of local-authority representatives. Each would be completely self-contained, including engineering, and in the form of the largest manageable unit for this kind of transport—about 2,000 vehicles. The services would, of course, operate on a fully co-ordinated basis."

B.E.T. was essentially a profit-making concern, which had a monopoly in various parts of the country. This was not a satisfactory arrangement for a public service.

End of Licensing

Conditions existing up to 1930 necessitated licensing and the establishment of Traffic Commissioners, but they were unnecessary under Mr. Morton's scheme. The high cost of the administrative machine would be avoided.

He pointed to the anomaly under which conductors of motorbuses required licences, whereas trolleybus conductors did not. All local authorities had a system of engagement by selection, and if councils took over all bus services, the licensing of drivers and conductors would become unnecessary.

Mr. Morton claimed also that there would be no need to issue public service vehicle licences and certificates of fitness for vehicles, because local authorities, as responsible bodies, would not run unsatisfactory vehicles.

' The need for road service licences would also disappear. Well-established principles of inter-running arrangements should be embodied in formulw with statutory force. Where such formulze did not apply or agreement between local authorities could not be reached, an officer of the Ministry should hold a public inquiry.

Provided that statutory protection were given to stage services, there should be no need for licences for the express services run by the board to be set up under the B.T.C.

Much of the credit for the comparatively small rise in fares.. since the war was due to the engineers on both the manufacturing and operating sides of the industry. A bus today cost about £4,800 and had, a life of 12-20 years, whereas -in 1939 the cost was £1,900 and the life about seven years.

Spread over its working span the cost of a bus was little more today than it was before the war. Moreover, modern vehicles had higher seating capacity, better fuel consumption, increased comfort and other advantages.

Manufacturers should be left to make buses. There should be co-operation by operators with manufacturers, but operators should devote their time and energy to their proper job of running buses. The diverse requirements of operators had produced flexibility of thought and readiness to experiment, which was to be preferred to the dead hand of standardization.

Independent Research Body

Mr. Morton thought the passenger transport industry should have its own body for engineering research and development. The Motor Industry Research Association covered too large a field. A penny from every £1 of revenue of bilk operators would raise 'about Dm. a year, and a research body of this kind, working with the manufacturers, would repay any such expenditure many times over.

Mr. Morton thought the solution of the problem of rural services might be found in the post bus. Such a service could be supplemented by local bus operators at certain periods of the day.

If all stage services were taken over by local authorities, a national wages council, with a national structure, could be set up. Many influential people in the industry thought that hours and conditions of work, even more than the wage rate, had caused the shortage of bus crews since the war.

"The present basic wage for a municipal bus driver is £8 15s. per week," -said Mr. Morton. "His work, in effect, has always been on the basis of time study. Agreed running times produce a ' Stint' of a certain number of journeys per duty. Taking into consideration his fluctuating hours of work, the driver is a shift worker, virtually on piece work, but paid on day rates. . . .

Tax Depresses Wages

"The tax on fuel oil lies at the root of this problem. The busman's wages are ground between the burden of the tax and the reluctance of operators to raise their fares. It has been said that the London busman has fallen from second to 56th place in the table of industrial wage earners, comparing 1939 with the present. In 1939 the tax was 9d. a gallon; today it is 2s. 6d, . . .

"Without . suggesting that all the money released by exemption from fuel tax should be applied to increasing wages, it is significant that the amount a tax paid in Sunderland is the equivalent of over 30s. per week on each employee's wages. . .

"It is difficult to understand why busmen's wages should be artificially depressed to subsidize State expenditure on anything from health services to nuclear bombs."

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