Political Commentary By JANUS
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pASSENGER operators have a peak problem in a dramatic form. They find themselves over-burdened for comparatively short periods, and for most of the remainder of the time they are whistling for custom. Goods carriers also have their slack and their busy periods, but the difference between one and the other is seldom acute and has not therefore been made the subject of special study. A combination of recent developments may force the problem on the notice of goods operators.
Folkestone may not be a particuarly large town, but it has provided a good example of the kind of thing that is happening. Some time ago the town council, possibly taking the cue from other local authorities, decided to have traffic restrictions on the new model, no doubt believing them to be a status symbol. Inevitably, their proposals involved loading and unloading bans on commercial vehicles in the centre of the town. Apparently the restriction was to operate between 10 a.m.-1 p.m., and between 2-5 p.m. As many of the shops in the streets affected made a habit of closing for the lunch hour, the ban would, have been in effect continuous from 10 a.m. throughout the day.
Successful protests were made by the Traders' Road Transport Association, the Road Haulage Association, British Railways and British Road Services. The council have now decided to try other methods of dealing with traffic. The news is welcome but not entirely reassuring. Bans have already been imposed in some towns, and there are others, including Birmingham and Newcastle upon Tyne, where the bans are awaiting the result of public inquiries. The Road Traffic and Roads Improvement Bill now on its way through Parliament will have the effect of speeding up the legal procedure, and this cannot do other than encourage the imposition of restrictions.
At least the public are awakening to the danger. It is regular routine on the part of the T.R.T.A. to take a census of shops and other businesses in the proposed restricted zone. They had arranged to do this in Folkestone before the proposal was abandoned, and they are carrying on with the plan, presumably to meet future contingencies. Traders and goods-vehicle operators in Birmingham have also spoken out against the proposed restrictions there.
More could be done to put the problem before the public in the proper perspective. In the past the road operator has teen either too efficient or too complaisant. The customer las been in the habit of stating when he wants delivery, ar when he expects his goods to be collected. He has even leen known to impose his own loading and unloading bans. The vehicle operator, although he may have grumbled,'has 'ound ways and means of doing the job. This has become ess possible now that local authorities are discovering the idvantages of the ban. The difficulties thus raised are being tccentuated by a trend within trade and industry.
The working week is shrinking, and with it the time mailable for hauliers to carry out their task. The customer's mint of view is not helpful. Most factories and shops like o take delivery comfortably within the working day, and his is particularly evident at the end of the day. As their losing time draws near, the welcome they give to an ncoming vehicle becomes colder and colder. They are totably reluctant to deal with a consignment that will take ome little time to unload and may then have to be stored may safely before the day's work can be said to be done.
There have for a long time been obstacles in the way of hauliers wishing to deliver to certain customers at weekends. Now that many factories remain closed on Saturday, the obstacles have been transferred to Friday afternoon. Looking ahead, the haulier sees that a four-day week over a wide range of industry is not beyond the bounds of possibility. The general effect can only be to reduce still further the time available for him to carry out his work. When this tendency is reinforced by the restrictions of local authorities, a number of difficulties arise.
The shopkeeper may co-operate by providing labour early in the day or late in the evening. He may have to do this in some cases, but there will still be. only a short time for effective collection and delivery at his premises. The haulier will inevitably be faced with a peak problem more serious than he has encountered hitherto. His colleagues on the passenger side will be able to tell him that this has a cumulative effect. Reducing the effective period of operation means that more and more vehicles are competing for the same space. The attempt to compress the work into less time means that it takes more time. The ensuing congestion could even lead to more bans, thus further reducing the time for collection and delivery, increasing already severe congestion, and so on.
Costs and rates will sooner or later find a place in the problem. Hauliers in London, which has a traffic problem of a magnitude far greater than in any other town, are already talking of the necessity to put their charges up. The rate for the mile becomes meaningless when the mile is travelled at a pace slower than that of a horse and cart. The rate for the day cannot remain the same when for practical purposes the day is limited to a few hours. The rate for the week was never meant to apply to a week of four days.
The solution is not easy to find. The haulier has always had to follow the whims of his customer, however harsh, and will no doubt continue to do so. He would not be advised to infringe the regulations by attempting to load or unload in a street where a restriction applies, especially now that the police are to be reinforced by traffic wardens. It would be pointless to send the vehicles outside the hours laid down by his customers.
Something may be done to speed the work by making use of the many loading and unloading devices that daily become more effective and have been well demonstrated this week in the Mechanical Handling Exhibition at Earls Court.' There must be a sustained effort to provide more space. All new premises should be provided with facilities for commercial vehicles as well as for private cars. Railway sidings that often take up a good deal of room on older premises, and that may be comparatively little used, could be converted or adapted for the use of road vehicles.
Staggering of working hours, and even of working days, is in some ways a drastic measure, but is becoming just as desirable on the goods as the passenger side. The public are beginning to appreciate the passenger operator's view. Only the other day the Midland Regional Board for Industry noted that, because of lack of prior consultation with bus operators, engineering concerns ran into transport trouble when they switched abruptly to a 42-hour week. It may ultimately become accepted practice to consult both goods and passenger interests.