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Janus comments

31st May 1968, Page 53
31st May 1968
Page 53
Page 53, 31st May 1968 — Janus comments
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

Jaw-jaw better than war-war

LL the arguments about quantity censing tend to come back to the dictum in he White Paper on the transport of freight hat "the need to give some protection to he railways is still a valid objective of icensing". Provided a sufficient amount of raffic is transferred from road to rail the ntention of the Government will be met.

Having determined the aim they must will he means. The Transport Bill gives the ....icensing Authorities the power to insist hat certain freight which the user would 'refer to send by road must go instead by -ail. The power is limited in a number of ways and its extent may be more clearly -ealized when regulations are issued in due ourse.

What is certain is that the Government has gone as far as it dare in the desired direction. As a result of protests it has made one or two concessions, important in themselves but not fundamental to the main purpose of the Bill.

In public the policy has been to minimize the possible effects of quantity licensing. Customers sin against the light through ignorance, it has been suggested. Once they realize what British Railways have to offer they will be first in the queue with their traffic. The railway service is improving, particularly the Freightliner, and it must improve sufficiently to satisfy the Minister of Transport before he allows the new system to begin.

Basic idea

Such reassurances have encouraged the Traders Road Transport Association to put forward an alternative. It has the support in principle of all the main user organizations. The basic idea is that the trader or manufacturer, who has to make up his mind by which form of transport he would like his goods to be carried, would alone have the right to apply for a special authorization. If the railways or the National Freight Corporation put up a sufficiently good case against it the Licensing Authority would arrange a discussion so that the trader could be fully informed of the advantages that rail can offer.

This procedure would "remove any possibility of ignorance", as the TRTA points out At the end of the day, however, a road licence would have to be granted if the applicant still wished it.

The plan follows the lines of the Dutch licensing system. Whether it would be equally successful in Britain is another question. It is unlikely that the TRTA will be given the opportunity to find out. The Minister has been confronted with a carefully reasoned argument which he may find difficult to refute. In spite of this he will certainly reject it.

Not much more is offered to the railways than they already have. Their salesmen are entitled to approach any trader or any haulier and offer to discuss the services that are available. Few traders would refuse the offer unless their past experience of using the railways had been unfortunate.

If in any suitable case no approach has been made, the fault must lie with the marketing division of the railways. The salesmen have not been enterprising or persuasive enough. The trader remains an untutored savage because no missionaries have been sent to him.

Criticism of the railway salesmen may be unwarranted. There is no genuine evidence that they are not doing their job properly. Possibly there are too few of them to call on every trader regularly and frequently. For this to happen it might be necessary to inflate the sales force beyond reason.

Presumably it is these people already thin on the ground who would have to find time to attend the sessions before the Licensing Authority whenever a recalcitrant trader insisted that road transport and road transport alone was suitable for his precious traffic. It is a moot point whether their time would be better spent there than in visiting the user at his own premises.

There he would often be in a more receptive frame of mind. He would not be sacrificing time away from his business and he would not feel obliged to marshal all the unfavourable evidence he could find.

From the railway point of view no licensing at all might be preferable to the TRTA plan. Under licensing, what the trader now considers his right, to dispose of his own traffic how he pleases, would become a privilege. It would have a value, although not necessarily in financial terms.

Even when a trader is fully convinced by the arguments put to him before the Licensing Authority he is still likely to demand his licence. It will not prevent him from sending the traffic by rail but he will retain the right of switching to road whenever he wishes.

In two minds

The haulier may be in two minds about the proposal. He would prefer to hold the licence himself He can more easily plan ahead when he does not have towait for the customer to argue the matter out with the railways. He might himself intend to use Freightlikers for the traffic but it would be difficult for the Licensing Authority to take this into account. At least the present Minister is becoming aware that hauliers have problems like other people. He has conceded that where traffic is to be carried on one leg of a triangular journey or perhaps even as a return load, a little more latitude should be given to the haulier seeking a special authorization. This is another consideration which would disappear from view under the TRTA plan.

On the other hand, the haulier may believe that the plan will keep more traffic moving by road and to that extent be to his advantage. This is the central issue. The whole point of quantity licensing is to transfer the maximum volume of traffic to rail.

The criterion

The TRTA would hardly argue that its plan achieves this objective to the same extent as the proposals in the Bill. If this were the case there would be no point in putting the plan forward. It saves no administrative time and money.

For the Minister the criterion will be the opposite to that of the hauliers and probably also of the traders. He will be interested only in proposals which increase the power of the railways to take traffic away.

What are particularly important in the TRTA statement are the principles which it enunciates in passing. The transport decision ought to be kept "where it belongs—with the user", says the memorandum which has been sent to the Minister. User, road transport and rail interests ought "to work in harmony".

Another pregnant observation is that "the forces of competition will inevitably override prejudice". In the context of the memorandum the prejudice is that which it is alleged some users have against the railways. If he takes time to consider it the Minister may realize that the statement can equally apply in reverse to official prejudice against road transport.

Certainly the transport decision should belong to the user and under the proposal he would exercise it. This is no doubt what the Minister fears. If he accepts the principle it will be harder than ever for him to continue with the Bill in its present form.

It raises more problems than it solves. It will not help the railways to the extent that the Government hope. It will create unnecessary disruption for road operators as well as what the memorandum calls "bad blood between user and railways".

Last week I set out the consistent record of rail decline. It will continue in spite of the financial concessions and other advantages promised in the Bill. There is only one sensible way out. The railway problem must be separated from the transport problem as a whole. If the railways are to be kept in being —and it is still inconceivable that they should be written off completely—they must be given whatever support is needed from some other source than competitive forms of transport.

All the many attacks against quantity licensing point to this conclusion. It emerges particularly clearly from the TRTA memorandum. The railways are a service like any other which people must be allowed to use or to reject as they please.

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