Increased Weights and Dimensions BY A AL
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WHYTHE DELAY IP CORRESPONDENT THE Ministry of Transport first announced its intention to increase the maximum permitted weights and dimensions of motor vehicles on January 31 this year. At that time it was stated officially that the present regulations were in need of revision "in order to increase the productivity of the road transport industry in the home market, its competitiveness in the fast growing international market and to facilitate the export of commercial vehicles". With these sentiments virtually everyone concerned with commercial road transport were in agreement. The Ministry's announcement was welcomed wholeheartedly and the industry looked forward to the forthcoming alleviation of some of its largest problems.
Now, 10 months after that announcement, what progress is to be seen? Unfortunately, the answer is "virtually
nil in fact, the likelihood of an imminent increase in weights and dimensions was perhaps greater in January than it is now.
What are the reasons behind this disappointing situation?
The Ministry attributes the delays to the considerable divergence of views" between the various bodies who were invited to comment upon the proposals, particularly, it is suggested, between the manufacturers on the one hand and the operator's associations on the other. That such differences of opinion exist cannot be disputed, but the differences are, in the main, on points of detail and certainly not incapable of solution.
Originally, the most fundamental variation of opinion related to the suggested scope of the new proposals. The operators, mindful of the heavy capital expenditure already tied up in vehicles capable of carrying and even specifically designed for, the proposed increased weights, were anxious to see that wherever practicable the new limits applied to existing vehicles.
Purely Permissive In answer to criticisms of consequent overloading of vehicles not capable of withstanding the additional burden, it was pointed out that the proposals were permissive only and there was no reason to believe that adoption of increased maxima would lead to such a situation. Initially, the manufacturers had doubts as to the wisdom of extending the advantages of the increased maxima to existing vehicles, but now they are understood to hold the view that many of today's vehicles might be suitable for uplift. 'So even on such a fundamental point the two originally divergent views can be seen to be drawing closer together. To most people this will merely reflect the logical and expected course of such a situation and will serve to emphasize, if indeed any such emphasis is necessary, that the satisfactory solution of these differences need never be in doubt. On those points where the interested parties cannot reconcile their differences it is surely the Ministry of Transport's responsibility to act as mediator and to decide on a positive line of progress. Such action will not satisfy all points of view, but it is hetler than to have absolutely no action at all.
This seems such a logical step that one wonders whether the continuing delays can be attributed solely to the reported " differences of opinion ". Is it not possible that other and more important factors are influencing the current delaying tactics?
Side-effect of E.E.C.?
The proposed increases were announced against the background of supreme optimism for Britain's early entry into the European Economic Community and. in fact, the proposals were made with the nrohable adoption of standard limits within the E.E.C. very much in mind. However, no sooner had the paoposals "seen the lieht of day" when came the sudden and virtually unforeseen breakdown of the Brussels negotiations. Could it be that the failure at Brussels took away the sour which had prompted the January proposals? If so. this surely is mistaken policy, for despite our exclusion from the Common Market the volume of commercial traffic to the Continent continues to grow; which is a reflection of the growing importance of the ever-expanding European markets. In making the announcement the Ministry stressed the importance of increasing road transport's competitiveness in the fast growing international field. That need is no less important today than it was when the proposals were first announced. Unnecessary delay could be dangerous and the implications could be felt for a long time to come.
It is not, howevereonly in international affairs that additional possible reasons for the delays can be found; there is considerable opposition to the introduction of larger commercial vehicles in this country. That such criticism is often so ill-informed is unfortunately of no small consequence: there are far too many people who, for a number of reasons, are only too willing to jump to hasty conclusions. Nor can it he said that such criticism is restricted to uninfluential circles, or for that matter to one political party. The proposals have yet to he debated in Parliament, but nevertheless,
evidence is already to be seen of the existence of strong Parliamentary opposition.
There can be no doubt that politically this topic is a very "hot iron" indeed. Perhaps in these immediate pre-election months it is now considered to be just that little too hot !
The vexing problem of plating cannot be ignored when analyzing this current situation, for whilst the two separate topics of weights and dimensions and plating can be considered in isolation it cannot be disputed that the proposed amendments perceptibly increase the case for plating. So the two factors are consequently drawn closer together and the problems and difficulties of the one inevitably begin to affect the other. Now, instead of one thorny problem, two such difficulties have to be faced and the possibility of a quick solution to either is consequently diminished. That these problems are very complex ones indeed cannot be disputed, but they are certainly not beyond solution, If the reasons for delay are as specific as the Ministry maintains is there any reason, one wonders, why there should not be the earliest possible start to consultations between everyone interested, aimed at solving these problems ?
In the meantime the confusion and uncertainties generated by these delays continue to grow. It is reported that the manufacturers' future production plans are being jeopardized, because although they know that changes might be seen in a year or so, they do not know with any certainty just what the new maxima will be. Similarly, operators faced with heavy capital expenditure programmes for new vehicles are quite understandably delaying any specific action until the present uncertainties are removed. There is no point in buying vehicles which have to last six or seven years at the least if they are going to be out of date in a very short period. The consequence of such hesitancy could be that existing vehicles will have to be used for longer periods than would otherwise obtain. To say the least, this is not conducive to sound operating sense and economics, not to mention road safety. The longer the current uncertainties are allowed to linger the more serious will these problems become.
The commercial road transport industry is geared and ready for an increase in vehicle weights and dimensions; the need for such an uplift, readily admitted by the Ministry of Transport, has been proved time and time again.
Let us hope that the high expectations generated by the January proposals will not be in vain.