The Control of Passenger Transport
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THE statements made recently by a Regional Transport Commissioner in a letter addressed to the chairman of the bus committee of a village, points from which epistle we published in our issue dated December 1, did something to clarify the position as it concerns the present-day system of licensing. Something more is needed, however, to satisfy the post-war operator in a small way of business that he is receiving a square deal, whilst thousands of residents in country areas are inclined to take the view that they are being caught between the anvil of the big interests and the hammer of those who run smaller services. with the R.T.C. as the blacksmith.
It seems that the R.T.C.s and the M.O.W.T. work . upon the assumption that because the big operators had, in some cases, to reduce or discontinue a number of their services, they should be given preferential treatment when the fuel and tyre position becomes such that extensions are permissible, and this despite any prior claims by the smaller men.
As is well known to our readers we have every sympathy with the aspirations of men who are building their businesses from small foundations and we have fought their battles for many years. At the same time, we are not biased in any way against the big operators, all of whom have had to grow from more or less minor positions by processes of extension and absorption.
Excellent Service to the Public The records of the majority of the important passenger-transport concerns are excellent, and it is seldom their fault if any particular community be seriously neglected. It is one of the doubtful privileges of these interests that they often have to operate comparatively unremunerative services to help the public, and, of course, incidentally, in the hope that eventually the traffic will -grow until they pay their way.
Operators in a. smaller way of business are not always in a position to undertake such pioneer work. They must make their services pay almost from the start, otherwise the drain upon their financial resources would become too serious. At the same time, we are greatly against any dog in-the-manger attitude, particularly if this be at the expense of the convenience of the public.
The small operator, if he gives good service with satisfactory vehicles, should receive every possible encouragement, although it is hardly to be expected that his bigger rivals would appreciate encroachments upon what they are pleased to consider as their territory.
It would be manifestly unfair to permit any provider of passenger road transport to pand to any considerable extent in areas from which others have withdrawn in the interests of national economy, or who have refrained from putting forward their claims to extension for the same reason. All should be given the same opportunity and be treated in a just manner after the pros and cons of each claim have been considered.
First Come Not First Served It is obvious that in present-day circumstances and, in fact, at other times, the principle of first come first served, as far as the provision of means for transport is concerned, may not always be in the best interest of the travelling public.
It may seem to an operator to be extremely unfair, should he lodge an application for permission to institute a new service or for an extension of those which he is already running, if some other operator be invited to state his case and, possibly, achieve success. Here it is that extremely fine judgment on the part of the R.T.C. is essential. He must carefully weigh every factor and not allow his final opinion to be influenced merely by the respective sizes of the interests involved.
We believe that, in the main, this desirable end is attained, although even R.T.C.s are human and, consequently, liable to err. It is, therefore, of vital importance that the right of appeal to a higher authority should be maintained, and this should not be a costly procedure, for if it be so, the scales of justice will be weighed against those with limited financial means.
On the same ground, we are strongly opposed to any policy which may necessitate legal representation at fees scarcely within the compass of orie or other party. Skill in the presentation of a case should not over-ride other considerations, such as quality of the service likely to be rendered and the just claims of the public to adequate transport facilities. It might, in fact, be sound to inaugurate some system by which the legal fees payable are restricted to reasonable amounts.
Whilst the Commissioner is virtually a law unto himself, he must, obviously, keep in mind the principles laid down in the Road Traffic Act of 1930. Also, we are quite sure that each occasionally gets together with his fellows to discuss the more detailed factors upon which his judgment can be based.
For the majority of the Commissioners we have a high regard, and believe that they endeavour to carryout the duties of their high office with a true sense of impartiality. Their work has not been eased during the war, and, in fact, they have been forced to impose restrictions and conditions which have not tended to popularize them with operators or the millions who travel in public-service vehicles. We have no doubt that they, as a body, and individually, will be greatly relieved when the supply of vehicles and the release of fuel, and particularly tyres, will enable them to adopt a more• generous attitude_ At the same time we would impress upon those who select men for these most responsible positions the necessity of choosing the soundest and most highly qualified amongst those available. Posts of this nature should not be regarded as reasonably lucrative jobs awarded merely for services in other fields or as plums to augment the pensions of the retired. The type required is the experienced, well-balanced, clear-headed individual with a full knowledge of transport requirements, young enough to be enthusiastic and receptive of modern ideas. The control of road transport in all its forms should not rest with doddering old men.