Balm for the Stricken
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rr HE Industrial Disputes Tribunal's award of an extra us, a week to busmen has provided operators with potent material for their campaign to reduce the delay between increases in costs and the authorization of higher fares. In this instance, a Government-appointed arbitration body has raised the costs of bus companies by &Int. a year, against which they have no bulwark except an advance in fares. The municipalities have been obliged to follow suit and incur additional expenditure of £24m. a year.
Thus, the Government have in effect raised the costs of the road passenger transport industry by £64m. a year and it is their duty to mitigate the damage by permitting speedy increases in fares. Unfortunately, the impost has come at a time when the Traffic Commissioners and their staffs are taking their annual holidays, and, unless steps can be taken to expedite hearings, the usual long delay between the onset of higher costs and remedial action will become even more protracted.
The obvious solution of the problem is an emergency Act, similar to that passed when the noxious "Suez shilling" was introduced. This would, however, require Parliament to be recalled, which the Government would not consider. Clearly, then, no relief can be expected in the present case, but there is every reason to continue to urge the modification of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, to allow small increases in fares to be introduced without prior authorization.
If the British Transport Commission can be trusted to use such power justly, so can bus undertakings. In fact, the present system penalizes the State-owned bus concerns just as harshly as private-enterprise undertakings and the Commission should lend their great weight to the cause.
Apart from anything else, keen and increasing competition from private means for transport would check any temptation that an operator might have to take advantage of discretionary powers. Every increase in fares is another nail in the bus operator's coffin and will be made only in the direst necessity. As wages rise—and there is every indication that they will continue to do so, regardless of the consequences to the nation—so will the number of cars and other private vehicles, and competition with public transport will grow' accordingly. accordingly. That alone will ensure that bus fares are kept to an economic minimum.