Why Shoulder the Burden of Rural Roads ?
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By 11. G. Burford, M.I.Mech.E.,
THE STATEMENT made by Mr. Shrapnell-Smith at the recent luncheon of the Commercial. Motor Users Association that that Association welcomed any decision by the Government to make substantial annual grants to rural roads from the Road Fund is one which will be received with mixed feelings by all who have the welfare . of meehanical
road transport development at heart. .
It is admitted that agricultural interests have a. legitimate claim to aid in respect . of rural rating in general and of road expenditure in particular. For motoring interests to accept, however, the general proposition that mechanical road transport must bear the share appropriate to the expenditure on rural roads would appear to surrender for all time the principle that the special taxation of road transport is temporary and that it is due to exceptional cire Cumstaiaces.
It should not be forgetten that, following on the recommendationsOf various commissions and de-. partmental committees, the Government, prior to the war, accepted the proposition that direct national grants should be made from general funds towards the maintenance of classified roads. Only the diffiCulties consequential upon the outbreak of the war prevented the application of this principle, and the revenue derived from the taxation of motor vehicles was therefore, earmarked, not only for road improve: merit purposes, but also for road maintenance so far as classified roads are concerned. In other werds, the motoring .community were forced to shoulder the burden which .sbould have been borne by the Exchequer, and the liability for which the Government fully recognized. The propo7 sition to which Mr. ShrapneIl-Smith now gives his sanction on behalf of the special interests his Association represents is that mechanical road,transport,
should shoulder yet another burden which, for political reasons the Government have been forced to recognize, involving in effect a further raid on Abe motorists' money in liquidation of another Government liability.
It appears to be highly unfortunate that a policy so far-reaching as that to which the Commercial Motor Users Association have, given their sanction should be broadcast to the Government and to the agricultural interests before an opportunity of considering it has been afforded the organizations representing motoring interests as a whole. I suppose it will not be denied that the greatest damage to rural roads is done by vehicles on the behalf of which preference is demanded in the matter of motor taxation, and the acquiescence of those interests in a further raid upon the Road Fund is apparently a generous gesture at other people's expense, made in the hope of silencing the local authorities' demand for an increased payment to that Fund by the largest road users.
: Mr. Shrapnell-Smith is undoubtedly entitled to express the view of his Association, but may I express the hope that the attitude which, • in this respect, he advocates will not be assumed to represent a considered expression of a policy necessarily commending itself to the mechanical road transport community as a whole. We may all knbw.that, whatever we think or say, the surplus balance to the credit of the Road Fund will be used for the relief of agricultural rates. Even so, 1 suggest7that to welcome such a complete revolution of rate aid at the expense of a motor tax may be fraught, sooner rather than later, with danger too real to be dismissed without the fullest deliberation by all those organizations which claim to speak on,behalf of the various 'sections of the automobile community.