The State versus the Haulier in South Africa By A.
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G. Thomson SIGNIFICANT pointers to the dangers inherent in nationalized transport are afforded by South Africa' s unhappy experience of legislation wielded to protect a State undertaking from the competition of private enterprise concerns.
In 1930, the South African Parliament passed its Motor Carrier Transportation Act, which was amended in 1932 and 194L " to provide for the control of certain forms of motor carrier transportation and matters incidental thereto." • . Power was given to the Minister of Transport to make regulations "not inconsistent with the said Act," an opportunity of which the fullest advantage has been taken.
For the purpose of the Act, motor carrier transportation is defined as "the conveyance of any person or any goods on any public road by means of any motor vehicle—(1) for reward, and (2) in the course of, or for the purpose of furthering, any industry, trade or business of whatever nature; or by means of a motor vehicle, the use of which has been obtained for reward."
Exemptions From this sweeping definition were excluded certain activities such as the conveyance of their own produce by farmers, the carrying of schoolchildren, and all transport by local authorities in their own vehicles.
The classification "conveyance for reward " covers the • activities of bus operators, taxi drivers and hauliers, whose operations require to be authorized by a certificate.
"Conveyance in the course of business" is done under the authority of an exemption. If an industrial* or Merchant requires to move his raw material and goods from the railheads to his place of business and thence to his customers, he applies to the local Transportation Board for an exemption. If he conveys his own goods in his own vehicles, the Board is obliged to grant him the necessary authority (exemption) between his premises and the nearest railhead, and within certain specified areas.
All the local boards come under the administrative control of the Central Road Transportation Board, by which appeals are held. Applications for certificates and exemptions must be advertised in the official gazette of the province concerned. Within 10 days after publication of the advertisement, interested parties may submit representations in writing supporting or opposing the applica B24 lion. The boards may hear evidence from the applicant, his opposers and their witnesses.
In South Africa, where distances between towns are ;mat and traffic limited, there was unquestionably a danger that private enterprise might concentrate on the most profitable traffic, leaving the railway i to handle bulky and cheaply rated goods. Consequently the railways might be forced to raise their charges on such goods as coal or mealies to uneconomic levels, or run at a substantial loss. In either event the public would have to foot the bill. Furthermore, the State has such an enormous amount of Money invested in the railways that South Africa could ill afford to jeopardize the future of its largest undertaking.
The Act was intended to regulate the growth of road transport and guard against wasteful competition. The railways, however, have used it as an instrument to preserve their own monopoly. Apparently on principle, they have opposed innumerable applications for certificates or exemptions, even when they were neither willing nor able to provide the public with a service for which there was an obvious need.
A typical example of the " dog-inthe-manger " attitude of the South African railways was their opposition to a large dairy concern which sought permission to transport milk and milk products from Potchefstroom to Johannesburg in its own lorries. For the applicant it was stated that the company could get the milk into Johannesburg with its own vehicles before the train left Potchefstroom!
Machinery bought for urgent delivery to a town 100 miles away from the consignors took over a week to reach the consignee; road delivery could have effected the transfer on the same day.
A Cape Town company applied to the Road Transportation Board for
permission to deliver. goods to its customers in the Wellington district, some 50 miles away. The concern was told that its lorries could be used to carry the goods to Cape Town station, to be taken by rail from there to stations in the areas for distribution. The lorries could be sent empty to these stations to pick up the-goods
Repeated applications • from commercial concerns to run liaXury, bus service from johannesbUrk ." to Durban were opposed by the railways on the grounds that an adequate train -service existed. When their position
• threatened to become untenable, the railways killed this opportunity of private ergerprise by . announcing their decision to start a luxury bus service themselves. This service is now in operation.
After the • war, shortage of rolling stock became so acute that goods piled up at the ports, and frequently took weeks to reach, the Rand. The suggestion that the Road Transportation Act should be abolished in the circumstances was. dismissed. bythe Minister as impracticable, on the grounds that hauliers would merely pick and choose small items of traffic, z thus • rendering confusion worse. However, as 'a moderate concession, the Minister did agree to exercise his emergency powers in favour of industrialists who were willing to transport bulk cargoes, such as coal and timber, for their own needs.
Transport Hindered In a memorandum presented to a commission on road transport in 1946, the Associated Chambers of Commerce went so far as to describe the Act as "the only hindrance to the mobilization of road motor transportation services for the general good."
Paradoxically, the Transportation Boards established under the Act have to some extent' become -the guardians of the public against the State monopoly. In a number of instances, certificates or exemptions have been granted despite vigorous opposition from the railways.
Transport conditions and problems in Britain differ in obvious respects from those of a vast and sparsely populated country like South Africa. Nevertheless the unfortunate situa • tion which developed in the Union might be commended to the attention of the British Parliament as an example of the pitfalls presented by restrictive legislation, no matter how well-intentioned it may be.