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Must Be Observed A FTER a year of the operation of the Road and Rail ir X Traffic Act, 1933, it behoves all public carriers to consider carefully their future prospects, and, in this connection, the observance of the conditions of licences is of vital importance. Although large numbers of prosecutions have already been taken for breaches of conditions, some of the Licensing Authorities have expressed the view that the lenience hitherto shown by them cannot be perpetuated.
They have, in their opinion, allowed operators a reasonable period in which to familiarize themselves with the regulations, whilst, in certain districts, magistrates have expressed sympathy with small carriers and drivers who have to grapple with complex legislation. it is, however, clear that, from now onwards, the vigilance of the Authorities and their, inspectors will be much stricter than in the past, and carriers should, in their own interests, satisfy themselves that they understand the regulations and the conditions of their licences.
As laid down by Section 8 of the Act, it is a condition of every licence that the authorized vehicles shall be maintained in a fit and serviceable condition, that the law regarding weights, speeds and the loading of vehicles be complied with, that the statutory hours of work for drivers be observed, and that records be kept. In addition, every A and B-licence holder must adhere to the provisions of Section 93 of the Road Traffic Act. 1930, as amended by the 1933 Act, regarding the conditions of employment and wages of drivers and statutory attendants.
Conditions of B Licences.
The Licensing Authorities may attach to B licences conditions restricting the area of operation, the classes of goods to be carried, the persons for whom the goods may be transported, and such other conditions (except with regard to rates) as they think fit in the public interest, and to prevent uneconomic competition.
The penalties for the disregard of conditions are severe, for, under Section 13 of the Act a a Licensing Authority may revoke or suspend a licence for this reason. On the other hand, this drastic punishment may not be inflicted unless the Authority is satisfied, after holding a public inquiry, if the operator concerned requests him to do so, that the frequency of the offences, or the deliberate nature of a breach, or the danger to the public occasioned by it, justifies such a course.
If requested by the licence holder, the Authority shall state in writing the grounds for the revocation or suspension of the licence. He may, in lieu of revoking or suspending a licence, direct that any one or more of the' liehicles specified shall be deleted from it, or that the maximum number of vehicles or trailers licensed shall be reduced.
The period of the suspension would, of course, vary with the nature of the offence, but it may afford some indication to mention that a road service licence, und6r the 1930 measure, has been suspended for several months. Although, theoretically, there is a marked difference between the suspension and revocation of a licence, the effect of the former may, in the case of a carrier, ultimately be as severe as that of the latter.
Under the Road Traffic Act, a licence provides a greater degree of protection for the operator than under the 1933 statute, for passenger-vehicle owners cover defined routes, and, after the period of suspension has elapsed, the operator returns to his business, the deputizing concern leaving the route.
On the other hand, the carrier whose licence is suspended would have no guarantee that, when he was allowed to resume operation, his previous customers would return to him, and his goodwill would suffer thereby. It might be the case that those who carried on his business in his absence provided superior service and that custom might be lcist to the original operator.
If the haulier's business showed a marked decline, the Licensing Authority might conclude, when the renewal of the licence became due, that the facilities pro-. vided were redundant and curtail; them. Eventually, the operator might have to go out of business An obligation that will, in future, be strictly enforced, is that relating to the owages and conditions, which, on the authority of the 1933 Act, have been laid down by the National Joint Conciliation Board and the Area Boards. If any employer does not pay the agreed wages and observe the proper working conditions, any organization representative of the road-transport industry may appeal to the Licensing Authority to have the matter referred to the Industrial Court.
If the Court decides that the employer has not observed fair wages or conditions, he is liable to be dealt with for a breach of the conditions of his licence. In this case, the Licensing Authority has power to prosecute the operator or to suspend or revoke his licence.
One of the most important provisions of the Act is that contained in Section 6 (2, b), which rules that Licensing Authorities shall, in exercising their discretion 'to grant Cr refuse a licence, have regard "to the previous conduct of the applicant in the capacity of a carrier of goods."
The Dangers of Undercutting.
Although, in the conditions that may be attached -to a licence, the question of haulage rates is specifically omitted, undercutting undoubtedly constitutes a breach of proper trade conduct and, presumably, Authorities could hear representations on this matter.
Moreover, as an employer is responsible for the wrongful actions of his employees, a carrier might, if objections were lodged in this connection, have to answer to the Authority for the inefficiency of his drivers. Such • a contingency might arise if his employees had bad records of offences (such as careless driving), other than those specified in the conditions.
The day is past when a haulier could, without indelibly painting himself as undesirable, regard fines as an establishment expense and make a regul& provision for that contingency. The disregard of the law as a means for expressing disapproval is worse than futile.
If it be found that any particular regulation bears unduly heavily upon the industry, united representations should be made to the Minister of Transport.