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THE Ministry of Transport have long since given up apologizing for publishing no More than the barest summary of the annual reports of the Licensing Authorities. Much more information was made .available before the war. For a year or two afterwards, the Ministry pleaded the need for economy in paper and printing, and when that excuse wore thin they avoided the subject altogether. As usual, the summary of the reports for the year ended September 30,1958, gives tantalizing glimpses of .the course of events during the year, but hardly makes it possible
to draw definite conclusions. . '
Nearly half the space is taken .up..by statistical tables of the results of applications for'licences-in each of the traffic areas. The only distinction made is between the types of licence sought. Without doubt, nearly all the applications thus recoorded are either for a renewal without modification or for a slight change in the conditions or the unladen weight. The tables could not be improved upon as an account of work done in the offices of the Licensing Authorities. They are useless if one wishes to know, for example, how many applications were for new licences, or how many newcomers came into the road haulage industry during the year.
Before the war the reports showed—as those on the passenger side ofthe industry still do—the number of operators with vehicle fleets of various strengths. This information provided a pattern of the industry that could not easily be shown in any other way. It is not available today. The Licensing Authorities are apparently not even in a position to say how many operators there are in road transport. The best help the reports give on this point is to show the number of operators holding the five different types of licence, A, contract A, special A, B and C. Merely to add the totals is meaningless, because one person may hold more than one type of licence, and the reports apparently ignore the frequent cases in which an operator holds several licences of the same kind.
Meagre Information More information might well be given in the reports on the extent to which each part of the elaborate licensing system is put to use. The meagre information made available is, nevertheless, of considerable interest. It is remarkable, for example, that at least two of the comparatively small number of licensing provisions in the Transport Act, 1953, have been almost completely ignored by applicants and by objectors.
Care was taken in Section 9(2) to instruct the Licensing Authority that he must have regard to the extent to which vehicles for which a licence was sought would help cooperation between road and rail or water without the need for unloading and reloading—in other words, by the. use of containers. Section 9(3)(b) was equally -practical. Among the points to which the Licensing Authority should" have regard when considering whether existing transport facilities were suitable, it specifically included, "to such extent as may in all the circumstances appear proper," the charges made and to be made.
In the course of five years, neither of these provisions has been invoked on a single occasion' It is reasonable to wonder why the Government thought the points so desirable as to introduce them into an Act of Parliament primarily intended to arrange for the denationalization of road haulage. Naturally, the Licensing Authorities do not indulge in speculations of this kind. It would have been useful, however, to have learned from them of the difference made, if any, by other changes introduced in the 1953 Act, such as the transfer of the onus of proof to the objector, and the distinction placing the interests of persons requiring facilities for transport above those Of persons providing those facilities.
. At least the reports give useful advice on the subject of normal user, which has become closely associated with Section 9(4). The Licensing Authorities are at pains to reassure operators who have shown reluctance to supply a sufficiently full statement of their proposed user. It is in • their interests, the reports emphasize, that Licensing Authorities have encouraged the redeclaration of normal user in terms that match the evidence of need. The reports give a remin,der that, although the renewal of an A licence may be refused if there have been material departures from the declaration of intention that formed the basis of the original grant, the Transport Tribunal have recognized the discretion of the Licensing Authority to deal with each case according to the circumstances.
Over the operations of the C-licence holder the Licensing Authorities have virtually no control. Perhaps for this reason, there has been no mention at any time in any of the licensing reports of one of the most significant developments of recent years, namely, the growing practice of supplying vehicles under a • C-hiring allowance. At the end of 1958, according to the reports, there were 1,099,282 C-licensed vehicles. It is not revealed how many of these were included within C-hiring margins and might more properly therefore be regarded as part of the national road haulage fleet.
Some idea of the importance of the development may be grasped from a study of the figures for vehicles on A contract, which has a certain family resemblance :to the hiring margin. A few years ago, the number of vehicles on A contract was declining. Many of them were taken over by. B.R.S. and most of the remainder were limited to a radius of 25 miles on behalf of the. one specified customer. By the end of 1952 the number had dwindled to 12,974. From that date there has' been a rapid increase, and the total-stood at 26,495 at the end of 1958.
As may be expected, the tendency has been towards the heavier vehicle, but the rate of this tendency is surprising. The number of vehicles with an unladen weight exceeding 3 tons increased almost "exactly fourfold, from 3,263 to 12,957. In general, the heavier the vehicle, the more pronouneed the increase in numbers. Between the limits of 9 and 10 tons, there were 5l6 .A contract vehicles in 1958 (considerably more, incidentally, than the total for A, special A and B), as compared with only 36 in 1952. The number of vehicles over 10 tons went up from 5 to 99.
So many, possible explanations for these figures come to mind that it would be pointless to examine them in the absence of more detailed information. It is only by accident that the details for A contract vehicles are available. The appropriate licence has a sub-section to itself in the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, and presumably for this reason is entitled to a column in the statistics compiled on the basis of the reports of the Licensing Authorities. It would be appreciated if there could be a few extra columns.