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Brave New World

28th December 1956
Page 49
Page 49, 28th December 1956 — Brave New World
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

Political Commentary By j AN U S

NO cheerful immediate prospect faces the road transport operator in the New Year. He is in danger of a fuel famine that threatens to immobilize his vehicles and deprive him of staff. His ruin may be completed by the transfer of passengers and traffic to a competitive form of transport, at the very time when that competitor has the promise of almost unlimited public funds to help put its house in order. In this context, the increase in fuel tax seems a heartless device to test how far the road transport operator can be handicapped before he has to go out of business.

The only consolation is that the situation can hardly become worse. Many operators have recovered from the first shock of fuel rationing, and are adapting themselves to living in a brave new world, if not a prosperous one. The more fortunate among them have made a practice of carrying the kind of traffic upon which the dispensers of supplementary fuel have been told to look kindly. A few may find their services even more in demand than before. A forceful example is provided by the operator who is called upon to send his vehicle from one end of the country to the other with a vital spare part for a tanker in dock. His function is more important than ever at a time when the quick turnround of tankers means so much. He can have no fear that fuel for the journey will not be granted.

All the same, it is necessary to look some way ahead before the mood of most operators can be made to fit the season. Even before the Suez Canal adventure, the future seemed doubtful to many of them, particularly to the public service vehicle operators. The Minister of Transport now claims to have solved their fuel problem. Whether or not they agree with him, they regard that problem as only one of many. There have been several gloomy prophecies during 1956, with a good deal of justification for them.

Two Brands of Television

Operators have recognized growing competition from the private car, from the oil-engined railcar, and from the two brands of television. Certainly, television has kept people at home. One may reasonably expect that they will in due course become used to it, and ultimately be no more attracted to their own hearth than before. The problem of the private car looks like being solved in a different way, satisfactorily perhaps to the p.s.v. operator, but not altogether in the interests of the general public.

Simple arithmetic has put the car owner at a disadvantage if, like millions of other people, he lives in a suburb and works in town. Parked all day in a side street, his car occupies so many square feet of space. The figure can easily be converted into local land values, or into a proportion of the total highway area in the centre of town. If he can be persuaded to come by public transport, he no longer reserves for his own use a share of precious public space. Recent legislation has mhde clear what methods of persuasion the Government propose to use.

Even on urban motorwaYs there have been second thoughts. Experience in the U.S.A. has shown that throughways may improve the flow of traffic without curing congestion, because of the attraction they have for private cars. The full benefit of improvements to roads may depend upon the retention of restrictions on their use.

The bus and coach commend themselves to planners

because they are economical of space. Density of population adds to the importance, of the point. According to the demographers, the population of Great Britain is due to decline, but the process, if it ever begins, will be slow, and for as long as we care to look ahead ours will remain a tight little island. There are still too many of Ili for unlimited elbow room. Space is one of our scarce resources, and is all the more precious for that reason. The p.s.v. operator has a strong argument on his side if he wishes to join battle with the car owner. He should certainly take comfort for the future from the size of the population, which not only provides him with plenty of potential passengers, but justifies communal, as opposed to individual, travel.

Hauliers also should be pleased that their customers are thick on the ground. The railways have come to admit more and more frankly that they are best suited to the carriage of goods in bulk over long distances.

They thrive in the wide open spaces. Possibly this accounts for the fact that they are so frequently ailing in this country.

Future Scope Endless

The best they can hope for, when their schemes for improvement take effect, is to win back traffic previously lost to their competitor. Their rigid structure makes it unlikely that they will find new traffic. Opportunities for road haulage continually arise, and, provided fuel difficulties are overcome, their future scope seems endless.

Incidental confirmation is provided by some of the points raised this month in a series of lectures to the Institution of Civil Engineers on the subject of the conservation of natural resources. The theme seemed to be that waste materials should not be left around, but should be taken to, some other place where they were needed. It was said that three million tons of silt dredged from the Thames each year and dumped at sea, returned almost-immediately with the tide. It could be put to better use, presumably at some other spot to which road transport would be needed to take it.

Mr. R. M. Finch, Nottingham City Engineer and Surveyor, wanted to make it compulsory, before any town or industrial development took place, to have the valuable topsoil removed for use in covering reclaimed land elsewhere. Here would be another task for a large fleet of road vehicles.

Equally ambitious developments will demand the use of different types of road transport. There has been recent news of contracts let for three new atomic power stations, and of plans for several more. According to the secretary of the South of Scotland Electricity Board, Mr. J. Meek, the station in Scotland would have "no cooling towers, no smoke stacks, no water towers, no railway siding, and no coal dumps."

The inference is that all the requirements will be met by road. Certainly, the services of heavy hauliers will be in demand over the next few years for the transport to the sites of pieces of equipment, many a them pek haps larger and heavier than anything that has ever been carried before in one indivisible load.

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