COMPREHENS ESS Ulster's Problem
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FOR upwards of 30 years, transport in Northern Ireland has remained very much in the melting pot. It has obstinately refused to be extricated from this situation, despite the well-meaning efforts of inquiries, tribunals and successive governments. Economics have a bad habit of refusing to bow to the edicts of legislators and Ulster is of exceptional importance in this connection, because its compactness makes the task of comprehending cause and effect much more straightforward than is the case with gigantic areas of great
Belfast is largely a child of the Industrial Revdiution and commercial development there helped to bind the whble province to Great Britain. Up to the end of the
;th century, Dublin was the undisputed capital ot eland and as late as 1820 had a population more than re times that of Belfast.
Fifty years later the northern city's figure had crept ) to 175,000, more than half that of Dublin. The early :ars of the new century saw the rivals almost equal. -affic through the port of Belfast rose rapidly until, r 1900, its Customs revenue was the third highest in e British Isles, being exceeded only by London and verpool. Hence the transport re-orientation which ok place in Ireland.
The Irish road system was well developed 150 years
ago and was reputed to be better than that of England:Today, the length of roads to the square mile is 60 per cent. greater in Northern Ireland than in the whole 'of Great Britain. In the 1840s, Ulster .spent a high proportion of the county revenues on road building, and routes were developed with the special intention of bringing the Ulsterman and his business into his own provincial capital.
These highways assumed a measure of importance that had formerly belonged to those aiming southwards towards Dublin. Thus, although there has always been heavy traffic between north and south, Ulster has some claim to being a natural transport entity.
The railways, when they Were fully developed, had a near-monopoly of public transport and up to 1920 the roads in Ulster were, in effect, their feeders. Then came the clash between the two forms of transport, but in 1922 a Government Commission took the then generally held view that road motors were likely to become auxiliaries rather than competitors, and recommended that no change should be made in the railway system. From this stage the road transport industry went on to prosper, being well suited to the relatively short runs usual in Ulster and developing much new traffic over routes that previously had been virtually unserved.
A service licensing system was introduced for buses in 1928, but goods transport continued to have a free hand. Naturally, the lorries were out for the most remunerative traffic. This point was emphasized at a recent inquiry, when it was shown that between 1922 and 1934, merchandise carried on the Northern Counties Committee Railway system had fallen by 37 per cent. and livestock by 46 per cent. Gross freight r-ceipts had dropped by no less than 58 per cent.
The difficult position in which the railways found themselves caused the Northern Ireland Government of the day to ask Sir Felix Pole to make an inquiry into the situation. Reporting, he said "there is an unanswerable case for co-ordination of road and rail services. It is in this direction that the salvation of transport in Northern Ireland lies."
The Northern Ireland Road Transport Board was established under the Road and Railway Transport Act (NJ.), 1935, with the duty of amalgamating passenger and goods road operators into one body, so as to facili• tate the work of co-ordination. The Board was duly set up and carried out the merging of over 1,100 separate road operating undertakings. For a variety of reasons the N.I.R.T.B. failed to achieve the objectives visualized under the 1935 Act and in 1938 a series of public inquiries followed.
However, the approach of war stifled the constructive work that was being carried out by the Board, and during the abnormal conditions orthe next eight years, day-to-day problems had to take precedence. Thus, for something like 18 years there has been a constant state of fluidity as a result of public inquiries; or of war, and, although much good work has been done, this state of affairs has prevented any great degree of progress.
Altogether, it is something of a marvel that the tangle has been straightened out as much as it has. In fact, the Ulster Transport Authority is carrying a high percentage of its freight and passengers by road and to that extent its problems must be regarded as more than three-quarters solved.
As elsewhere in the post-war years, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of bus passengers. They rose from 38m. in 1931 to 92m. in 1949. During the same period the buses required increased from 776 to 966, so that the extra 54m. passengers were, in effect, accommodated in 190 vehicles.
BI4 A White Paper was introduced into the Northei Ireland Parliament in 1946, the then Minister of Con merce saying that the proposals would give Ulster "fighting chance" of putting its house in order 1 matters of transport. On October 1, 1948, the U.T./ came into being, acquiring the N.I.R.T.B., and ti Belfast and Co. Down Railway, and managing 0 Northern Counties Committee Railway.
The three years from 1945 had seen a fall in ti combined annual profits of the undertakings concernE from £581,369 to £49,873. The "fighting chance" th. had been visualized two years before had obvious vanished into thin air and shortly afterwards the U.T.) was forced to the conclusion that there was no prospe of being able to operate comprehensive road and r1.services on a self-supporting basis.
Over the period from October I, 1948, to Septei ber 30,1951, the passenger and goods road departme was in credit to the extent of £505,275, but this w submerged by a railway loss of £863,425, apart frc heavy charges for loan interest, capital redemption a the like. Even in the case of the buses, net profits ha been falling, for, although the gross revenue has rist expenditure has also increased.
Traffic carried by road and rail during the year September, 1952, showed an increase of 154,041 tc and 187,637 head of livestock. Non-regular traffic a public works was partly responsible, although reductic occurred in classes where there had previously been regular flow. The latter changes were attributed largi to additional use of ancillary vehicles.
There has been a steady growth in the number vehicles owned by traders, from 1,588 in 1921 to 7,9 in 1938 and 15,149 in 1948. Further increases ha taken place each year since, the annual figures up September, 1952, being 18,413, 20,294, 20,987 a 22,229. From 1928 to 1952, tractors increased from 2 to 19,558. Despite this trend, the U.T.A. goods trai port department was placed on a profitable basis 1951-52.
Tonnage carried by ancillary users is not known, I the ratio of vehicles between private owners and 1 U.T.A. is approximately 22,000 to 700.
On the freight side, a census was taken over a peni of five days in December, 1937, and again in Decemb 1951.
In 1937, observers at eight important points recorc 1,700 public transport vehicles totalling 6,637 tc capacity, and average loading of 67.84 per cent., pared with 8,989 other goods vehicles of 24,106 tons an average loading of 55.74 per cent.
. 1951, the number of public transport vehicles was 4, with a tonnage of 11,843 and an average loading 9.6 per cent. Other transport operators had 43,522 es of a tonnage of 82,814 and an average loading 6.7 per cent.
nder the Northern Ireland Act there are certain y wide exemptions from the restrictions on the ying of passengers and goods by road for hire or ird. Nevertheless, evidence given at recent inquiries ned that there was a great deal of illegal working, figure of 27,000 tons a month (in cash, £275,000) g quoted. Livestock traffic,' in addition to :handise, is involved and it is the profitable full-load ignments that in general are being lost to the U.T.A. the Northern Ireland Parliament on April 28 the ister of Commerce, referring to this matter, said Authority are not offered the business to which are entitled; their rates are forced to a higher level perhaps they need be and those rates are themselves cause of the illegal activities." In short, a vicious e is created.
'hen the Transport Tribunal for Northern Ireland rted last November, special reference was made le handling of sundries traffic. This was stated to unique in the United Kingdom, providing as it does ,naprehensiVe system of carriage and delivery by a 3rnri System at unitoim rates throughout the whole 'ince." The arrangements have been used as a el by certain seCtions of British 'Road Services.
ie sundries class consists of consignments up to 't., chiefly outwards from Belfast and initiating from commercial undertakings in that city or from the i-channel shipping companies. The focal point for traffic is Grosvenor Road, where about 17,000 ages are handled daily.
Delivered Next Day oods collected one day are normally delivered the wing day. About 40 vehicles are employed at this it, including 23 Scammell tractors. Within a certain is, deliveries are made by road, but, where possible, consignments for a particular area are bulked, .ed in a container, or on a container flat and sheeted, forwarded to railhead for local distribution by . Many commercial undertakings in England, land and Wales now send goods to the Authority in , U.T.A. breaking up the consignments and .ering them throughout the province.
important factor in the post-war cross-channel c has been the establishment of the Larne-Preston service, which enables goods vehicles to be run :t from Great Britain to Northern Ireland without Ser of the load. For public goods transport an ornical system has been established whereby semirs are delivered to the ferry on the English side, hauled from Lame to their destination by U.T.A.
ie Authority not only undertakes delivery, but also -eloading of the units, if necessary, for the return. ards of 500 semi-trailers monthly are now handled r this arrangement.
acid commercial relations exist between U.T.A. and 1st Corporation Transport Department (whose ations were described in The Commercial Motor 'ebruary 15, 1952), vehicles being made available by body to the other as the occasion demands.
te corporation are fortunate in retaining control of transport undertaking, for both Sir Felix Pole, in his report of 1934, and the McLintock Committee, in 1938, thought that the Belfast city system should be incorporated in the province's transport as a whole. However, the monopoly powers granted to the city 25 years ago were confirmed by both the Act of 1935 and that of 1948.
Where there is an " island " within a larger area, differences of system are bound to create minor ' problems. Such a case is that of the passengers in the boundary areas who will sometimes walk outwards in order to be able to join buses on which a season ticket can be used, rather than pay the daily fares by the corporation vehicles.
Effective' fares on the Ulster railways before their amalgamation with the road undertaking were, if anything, somewhat lower than the road charges for similar journeys. Where railway services have been replaced by buses, the road fares have been applied and this has created criticism by the public in various districts. Incidentally, figures quoted before the Transport Tribunal showed that the U.T.A.'s average costs per bus-mile were 19.79d.
In Northern Ireland, buses are limited to a width of 7 ft. 6 in., although special permission can be obtained from the Ministry of Commerce to employ wider vehicles on specific roads. This restriction has rather cramped the style of bodywork and the Tourist Hotels' Association have for some time pressed for a luxury class of vehicle to be employed for party tours. About 60 vehicles are engaged on this work during the summer.
Although operations are so diverse, there is heavy peak-hour pressure on the Ulster bus fleet as a whole. To demonstrate the difficulties caused by these fluctuations, a check was taken on a week-day about two years ago to show the percentage of buses operating each halfhour from 6 a.m. until midnight. The relevant figures The prosperity of the U.T.A., as at present constituted, is very much bound up with the railways. Had they been driven out of business in 1935, irreparable harm might have been done to the trade and industry of Ulster. The necessity to preserve them was the reason for the 1935 Act.
Today, the Authority is definite in holding that if its railway system was discontinued, there would be regu.lated road services available to provide all the necessary facilities, even though certain individuals or organizations might at times be inconvenienced. If it is to be required to carry on non-remunerative rail services, the U.T.A. wants to know who is going to foot the heavy bill involved, for it is impossible to do so out of road profits.
However, the report of the Transport Tribunal, made last November, said " . . . the railways have been until comparatively recently the mainspring of the country's development and, leaving financial considerations on one side, they are still an important national asset, at any rate on the longer routes, and though they could be replaced by road services, the change would require the support of a more substantial body of the public than it could command at present."
Co-ordination has had its chance in Northern Ireland, but comprehensiveness would appear unlikely to earn its keep. Those who have studied the Ulster experiments will await the 'outcome With no little interest.