Hitting the Jack-pot
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AS the tantalizing Ministerial silence on the future Of transport is prolonged from week to week, the speculation grows bolder and bolder not only of _ the prophets who claim to read the Government's mind but also of the planners who see in the interregnum an ideal opportunity to stand on their soap boxes and proclaim their views. After putting up for five years with the forbiddingly chaste and dogmatic domesticity of the Ivory Tower, they now feel not unlike staid businessmen sent for an indefinite period on an assignment in Paris.
In some ways, one of the more reassuring of the facts of life is that people's tastes differ. If everybody wanted the same thing, there might not be enough of it to go round, even in Paris. The private transport heavens recently revealed to us have widely different and, in some cases, contradictory features. The one thing that applies to them all is that each plan goes a little further than its predecessors. Realizing that the time at their disposal may not be long, all kinds Of people within" and outside the British Transport Commission have plunged more and more deeply into the future.
. A Raised Eyebrow
Sooner or later somebody .was bound to reach the ultimate point. In my, view, Mr. Jain Miller has, for
what' it is 'worth, the credit of hitting the jackpot and deserves the tribute of a raised eyebrow Or two for accomplishing. the feat.' He has put fcirward the plan to end all plans, based for the most part on the tough philosophy of the survival of the fittest and the devil take ,the hindmost.
Mr. Miller believes in following a policy to the bitter end once it has been adopted. Like many other people he favours denationalization, but his version is complete. He would sell off all the assets of the B.T.C. As nobody is likely to buy the railways and the canals in order to run them at a loss, Mr. Miller would close them down, with a few exceptions. He proposes the creation of a board to supervise the development of an adequate -road system, to be paid for out Of taxation levied on road users. Road hauliers and passenger transport operators would be given their freedom; and Mr,. Miller means complete freedom from all restrictions except those concerned with safety on the roads.
No Chance of Fulfilment
These views are certainly extreme. They are intended to be taken seriously and have been formulated as the result of a long study of the transport problem. Their weakness lies in the method of presentation. Any man is entitled to peep into the future if he thinks it may help. When he is describing to us what he sees, all we ask is that he shall make plain whether he is trying to be practical or content to be Utopian. Mr. Miller is outlining a course of events which he must know can never happen: He leaves the impression of firmly believing that his plan is possible. Some of the individual items are attractive, particularly the proposal for a sane road-building policy. Taken as a whole, they have no chance whatever of fulfilment.
Mr. Miller has ridden his hobby-horse so hard that he has outdistanced everybody else. Have yoq ever suSpected uneasily that the aseptic paradises di-earned up by H. G. Welts in his early days and by his disciples are places where you would have no trade to follow and where, in fact, you would not feel particularly at ease? In planning his brave new world, Mr. Miller has no doubt relished making a clean sweep of practically all the contemporary devils. He has not adequately realized the danger of another lot of devils seven times as bad corning to take their place.
Railways' Declining Health When the railways and canals have been liquidated, Mr. Miller proposes to allow anybody to start a road transport business provided the vehicles are in good condition and the drivers qualified. No doubt the same freedom would be allowed for transport by air. Although opinions differ greatly on the extent to which road operators should be restricted, few people would advocate a free-for-all, even if the necessity of safeguarding the declining health of the railways • were removed.
Mr. Miller has contrived to displease practically all the people all the time. The railway and canal interests he can hardly have hoped to enlist on his side. The hauliers and operators of passenger vehicles have no wish to open the floodgates and allow unlimited entry into the industry. Those who lay claim to some measure of expertise will resent the airy suggestion that any "coal miner tired of darkness" is qualified to buy a bus or lorry and set up in business. Nor will the National Coal Board or the Ministry of Fuel and Power welcome this proposal. They much prefer the miner to stay where he is.
Misery and Chaos.
Trade, industry and the general public, though not enamoured of nationalization, do not want. transport to develop entirely free from controls. A dependable, flexible and continuing service is preferred to unadulterated cut-throat competition which jeopardizes the security of good and bad operators alike. So far, the trade unions have not trusted themselves to speak on Mr. Miller's plan. It would be worthwhile listening totheir opinions. They have already prophesied misery and economic chaos as a result of putting into force the comparatively mild proposal to repeal the 25-mile limit on hauliers. To people who think in this way Mr. Miller must seem like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rolled into one.
Mr. Miller is vice-president of the National Conference of Road Transport Clearing Houses. One is bound to say that clearing houses would probably benefit
• from his proposals, but this does not necessarily mean the reputable clearing houses making up the Conference, who realize the advantages of charging only a reasonable commission and of maintaining rates at a level sufficient to provide a fair profit to the operator. With all restrictions .swept, away there would almost certainly be a new crop of undesirable clearing houses battening upon the inexperienced hauliers and filching business from others.
After Mr. Miller's crescendo we are all ready for the curtain to go up. and for the Government to put forward its own proposals. Further progress along the line blazed by Mr. Miller would lead to pure fantasy. The' only feasible next step would be to get rid of transport altogether and let the blighters walk. What with fewer vehicles and higher prices, it may come tOthat.