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22nd January 1937
Page 34
Page 35
Page 34, 22nd January 1937 — 1937 BRINGS MONOPOLY CLOSER
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

ANOTHER year of disquiet and uncertainty has closed for the road-transport industry. In many quarters it was hoped that the exposure by The Commercial Motor, at the beginning of last year, of the amazing Parliamentary blunder in Section 11 of the 1933 Act 'would have far-reaching effects in curtailing the more obnoxious features of rail

way . persecution. Unfortunately, with the industry divided . against itself, there was no authoritative body strong enough to insist that the charges laid in this paper should he properly investigated.

The railways have pursued their campaign of obstruction and spoliation, secure in the knowledge that the Ministry of Transport was not likely to withdraw its patronage. When the history of "The Persecution of Road Transport" comes to be written by some future and more enlightened generation. 1936 will probably be described as " The Year of the Despoliation of the A-licence Holders," as a contrast with 1935, which was so unfortunately devoted to the plundering of B-licence operators.

They Refused to Listen.

Although the first applications for the renewal of A licences did not come up for review until 'the early autumn, an enormous amount of original claimed tonnage has already been filched. In spite of repeated warnings in The Commercial Motor and elsewhere, A-licence holders refused to believe that claimed tonnage would cease upon the expiration of their first licences.

Fortunately (sic) for traffic-court congestion, Bureaucracy in Excelsis discovered the value of moral persuasion ; others might give it a harsher name. Having discovered, by means of vehicle log books, drivers' records and application to the motor-registration departments of the various councils, those vehicles which had not been fully utilized, assistant B24 bureaucrats penned little buff inquiries.

A hint that persistence in applying for doubtful claimed tonnage would inevitably lead to the traffic court has often been sufficient to " persuade " the victim tamely to give up a part of his living. How smoothly the machine works! Would that all these hauliers had belonged to an association strong enough to see every one of these applications through a public inquiry. We should then have had an opportunity of seeing whether the machine worked under load !

B-licence holders, so severely restricted in the preceding years, in many cases have been granted their fresh licences upon request. I wish it were possible to tell this unfortunate section of the haulage industry that its troubles are over—but they are not.

Ingenious Subterfuge.

This magnanimous treatment has, perhaps, been due to a desire to avoid congestion in the traffic courts, but with unexampled ingenuity, officialdom has discovered an unobtrusive method of continuing the good work without unduly overcrowding the halls of justice.

Briefly, having reduced the radius of this class of contractor to the irreducible minimum, the idea now is to restrict to a similar degree the goods which he may carry.

Applicants who have, during the past two years, carried general goods in an ever-narrowing circle around the town hall, are now being asked to indicate the exact nature of the goods that they have been carrying, supported by evidence--e.g., drivers' log sheets. The usual hint of a public inquiry will, no doubt, be sufficient to ensure that they are not too difficult in being persuaded to agree to surrender another slice of their means for livelihood.

This year, with a slackening in A-licence renewals, it is understood that more time will be available for further attention to B-licensees.

It is not possible to leave this aspect . of the past year's actifrities without a reference to the railway fight against the trunk-roate operators. As, at the time of writing, the BoutsTillotson case is under review by the Appeal Tribunal, I do not propose to say much about it, saie to remind readers that the decpsion of the Metropolitan Licensing Authority involved the removal from this company's licence of 7 per cent, of its previous tonnage. In the McNamara case, over 25 per cent. of the vehicles. and trailers on the original licence were deleted, pending further evidence of need.

'Remembering at the outset the unctuous insistence of the various Licensing Authorities that the status quo should be maintained, it is significant to find suclt drastic curtailment of facilities within so short a period as two years, aind in a period of bounding industrial, development.

It is inevitable that iuch examples should frighten the smaller men from attempting to fight their cases in court, with the result that it becomes still easier to deprive Lthem of their rights by back-door diplomacy from headquarters.

" Lucky-dip " Polic Pursued.

The railways have continued to take every possible advantage of their powers under he Act, and ; have persevered in th " lucky-dip " policy which they 1pave pursued from the first. In certain quarters it has been suggested that they are dissatisfied with the result which they have obtained, but it may be taken that, during the past year, they have reaped a harvest beyond the wildest dreams of 1933, and, at the same time, made a sowing which will be even more fruitful in the future.

In operation, the railway campaign may appear to be disconnected and haphazard, and frhen the railways succeed in effe ing a trifling reduction in the radius of a haulier, the question is often asked : " What good has that done them?"

Unfortunately, all too frequently it is overlooked that the railways are working to a well-defined programme, divisible into three phases. The first of these—the closing of the industry to newcomers—is virtually accomplished. The second is the elimination of the smaller haulier, and the third, the absorption of the larger concerns and those others which may prove too difficult to destroy by any other means.

Effects of Pressure.

In the furtherance of the railway schemes, the squeezing of the smaller operators is having a most valuable threefold effect. It provides an opportunity for encroachment not only on the territory which has been stolen from the haulier, but it so restricts the market for his services that he is being forced to increase his competition with other hauliers.

The railways are satisfied that the process of dog eating dog will enable much of this tonnage to be wiped out without further intervention on their part, whilst any setback to trade will, of course, accelerate the movement.

The railways have derived a third advantage from this whittling-down process, in that, having successfully bottled up approximately a third of the available independent roadtransport, they are able more easily to segregate long-distance haulage for special attack.

Just E3,000,000!

Abandoning an impudent demand for all long-distance traffic—a mere "try-on "—they next put forward the " modest " suggestion that they would be content with absorbing the traffic which they could carry equally as well as road transport, i.e., trunkmute traffic. ' This, Mr. Ashton Davies. indicated, would cause merely some 3,000 vehicles to cease to operate As the average gross earnings of this class of vehicle are at least 21,000 a year, the railways' first objective is a trifling 23,000,000 worth of traffic annually.

This astute and hurried reclassification to suit their own ends was on a par with, past railway diplomacy. They are assuming that the remaining 97 per cent. of ordinary A-licence holders will be quite ready to throw over their long-distance comrades, so long as they are left in peace.

In considering the activities of the Licensing Authorities during the past year, our judgment must be softened by the occasional flashes of humanity which have caused certain of these potentates so far to forget themselves as to castigate railway counsel for illconceived objections. Their's is an unenviable lot.

Paid servants of a Government Department, ostensibly, they are set the task of co-ordinating two rival methods of transport, over one of which they have little or no control. In practice, they are expected to interpret the wishes of their paymaster, the Ministry of Transport, and, at the same time, impart to their deliberations an appearance of judicial impartiality. The same can be said with equal truth of the Appeal Tribunal.

The motor trade as a whole has had a good year, and it speaks volumes for the resiliency of this important industry that, in spite of all setbacks, commercial-vehicle registrations for the year will show a substantial increase. It is a paradox that this result should spell further danger for the road-transport industry, but this is a fact.

Makers' Lethargy.

It has lulled into a sense of false security a body potentially powerful to assist in redressing the grave evils under which the haulier is suffering. Towards the end of 1935, commercial-vehicle manufacturers were beginning to realize that one of their best customers needed help, but rising sales have encouraged a return of lethargy.

The makers have expressed an optimism which, based presumably on registration figures, is surely a little premature. 'Whilst we can appreciate a natural satisfaction in increased sales, registration figures by themselves prove nothing, save that a certain number of lorries and vans has been sold during a certain period.

It is a little surprising to find this simple act of absorption accepted as irrefutable evidence of the well-being of road-transport.

I have no figures available as to the actual number of vehicles in operation during 1936, as compared with previous years, nor, so far as I know, is there any means for discovering whether the aggregate payload capacity has increased or decreased. It is at least reasonable to suppose, however, that the incidence of increased taxation on the heavier vehicles, which reached its peak before the 1933 Act, the examination of vehicles for roadworthiness and the increased production and sale, during the past four years, of lightweight vehicles with high pay-load capacities, the life of which is, in most cases, less than half that of the old "heavies," has effected an enormous increase in the replacement market. It is sufficient, probably, to account for the whole of last year's increase in new registrations.

If we also take into consideration the large increase in railway fleets and the enormous abstraction of claimed tonnage from the fleets of independent operators, we shall have even less cause for satisfaction.

Retailers' New Responsibilities.

Whilst those responsible for the retail distribution of commercial vehicles have naturally shared in the benefits derived from increased sales, they have had to face an unwelcome increase in their responsibilities. In addition to negotiating their usual business, they have found themselves forced to act in the capacity of free legal advisers to their customers.

Moreover, the difficulties involved in constructing vehicles and bodies to fall within certain taxation classes have been increased a hundredfold by the imposition of arbitrary limits on the part of the authorities.

A saner attitude towards the partexchange problem on the part of most dealers has had the effect of allowing second-hand vehicle prices to find their proper level, with corresponding decreases in congested stocks and locked-up capital.

Monopoly is News.

It would be impolite to conclude this summary without a reference to the lay Press, which, during the hearing of the Bouts-Tillotson case, " discovered " road transport. There can be little doubt that the one word which focused Press attention was "monopoly."

There is no word more detestable to the British conscience, and each newspaper felt that it would be giving an advantage to its competitors if it failed to place the facts before its readers. We do not know to what extent this interest might have been stimulated and sustained had road transport possessed an association capable of speaking with one voice.

This thought leads vs to what is, perhaps, the most• significant and certainly the most deplorable happening of the past year—the failure of the two main associations to merge. At no time has there been greater need for unity, and yet, at the end of slow months of deliberation, road transport, failed by everyone else, failed itself STATUS Quo.

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