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—how it is affected by the report
Recommendations in the Road-Rail Report for Exacting Supervision and Strict Operating Conditions May React Favourably Upon Those Who Conduct Their Businesses Properly
By Capt. E. H. B. PALMER, O.B.E.
ACLOSE study of the Road-Rail Report has led me to the conclusion teat if anyone is like': to benefit it will certainly be the long-dista3ce haulier.
The situation which faced the Conference wts fraught with difficulties. The railways had been steadily losing tonnage that they considered was theirs by right. The haulier, although gathering up as much of it as he could lay his hands on, and with marked success, was not exactly reaping a harvest. Some steps had to be taken that would be fair to both sides and of benefit to the country.
Road Transport of Major Importance.
Now, Part I of the report will be skimmed by many in their desire to come to grips with the essentials. It does, however, succeed in impressing on one's mina the fact that road transport has become a subject of major importance. One reclines, most acutely, that by legislation on the lines suggested road transport will be raised to a status equal to that of the railways.
I am satisfied that those who represented roadtransport interests on the Conference were men above reproach and unlikely to give way on point after point, against their better judgment. Also, one knows that the recommendations of any conference seldom become accomplished facts without suffering amendment and modification. Let us take comfort from this, and for the present, at any rate, deal with these recommendations at their face valuation.
My mind has Et definite haulage complex. I have never been connected with the railways and I hold no brief for them. My mission, therefore, is to examine the position from the standpoint of a "John Citizen" who has had practical experience in the past of the operation of long-distance haulage and who, naturally, retains interest in its well-being and development as an industry. This development has been grievously retarded, however, by the vicious system of ratecutting, for which no one is to blame but the hauliers themselves.
Long Overdue Legislation.
Legislation, as proposed, is long oyerdue and will go far towards establishing long-distance road haulage on a basis both dignified and financially sound. Too long has it been Cinderella to the railways. It has suffered from the depredations of its poor relations almost to the point of extinction. Rates have just about touched bottom and many a contractor, whilst fully realizing the folly of it all, has been compelled to emulate the vicious example of his short-sighted brethren, to his own ultimate undoing.
Return-load rates have become an anomaly. In many instances they may now be said to operate both ways, and to the benefit of no one but unscrupulous hirers and clearing houses of a class now, fortunately, very much in the minority.
It may be anticipated that, in future, long-distance rates will be maintained at a practical level, but to ensure this hauliers must work in unison. Certain radical changes must come, but few business men will deny their necessity.
In the first place, the owner-driver will be gradually eliminated from long-distance work in favour of those whose organization and resources enable them to guarantee reliable service and to face with equanimity any contingency likely to arise in attempting to effect safe and prompt delivery of goods over considerable distances. There is no injustice in this to the ownerdriver. I do contend, however, that it is a kindness to protect him against his own incurable optimism.
He is the d'Artagnan of the road. Sheer luck has carried him through, but the time will come when he finds himself up against it, unable to fulfil his obligations, and, in consequence, discredited. The farther he works from his base the greater the gamble, and my well-meaning advice is to content himself with local work, especially as there is a suggestion of a concession in favour of vehicles so employed, or, alternatively, to enter the employ of someone able to shoulder the grave responsibilities attached to longdistance delivery service.
The Long-distance Haulier Should Benefit.
There is little doubt that the proposed increased taxation on heavy vehicles will remove a large number from the road and forbid the introduction into the haulage business of many more. Such relief will be felt, to no small degree, in long-distance haulage. The logical sequence is that those still carrying on will --enjoy a higher average tonnage per mile and, possibly. a higher annual " employed " mileage than has hitherto been possible in the face of rate-cutting and the overcrowding of routes.
In consequence of this the additional tax although admittedly a heavy one, will not prove nearly so crippling as one would at first suppose; the addition will he spread over 30,000 miles per annum (a modest estimate for-long-distance haulage) and each one of these miles will be enjoying a higher average tonnage. Nevertheless, the addition does mean an appreciable difference to operating costs, which will be reflected in the rates schedule. I have always contended, however, that competition between road and rail is not a question of rates, pure and simple. Each system offers features peculiar to itself that will appeal to those likely to adopt it,•and, so far as hauliers are concerned, it is up to them to make use of every possible argument.
For example, door-to-door service is an insidious attraction to many. The railways, nowadays, claim to effeet this by means, of "containers." They are, however, fettered by a classification that conmels on them, in most cases, a minimum tonnage—bulk or weight. There is little doubt that the average haulier is able to offer greater latitude in this respect. What is there in direct delivery that particularly appeals? One may cite the following: 1. Simplified proof of delivery.
2. Elimination of substantial packing and, in consequence, a saving in labour, weight and possible space.
3. " Returned " empties handled With greater facility and dispatch.
4. Delivery to schedule if desired.
Undoubtedly with many a manufacturer and merchant such points carry considerable weight.
The Flexibility of Road Transport.
Again, we have in road transport all the advantages of flexibility which the railroad can never enjoy. Study the problems of bus and tram services operating the same route, and you will get my meaning to a nicety. Except for its system of collection and distribution at each end, the railway is tied down to a rigid line between definite points. Throughout that distance each mobile unit is part of an equally rigid code governed by a number of unalterable factors. Road transport, on the other hand, is nearly as free as the air. It can adopt any route, leave at any hour and call at any point that does not necessitate serious deviation or delay.
It should be perfectly clear to hauliers, therefore, that undercutting railway rates is not an essential factor to successful competition and not the sole inducement that can be offered In order to induce tonnage their way.
I am of opinion that nothing operates more adversely against their interests than this inter-rivalry amongst long-distance hauliers themselves. In their stand against the railways they have been "as a house divided . . ."—and the advent of the Road Haulage Association is all the more welcome. Should this young and enterprising organization succeed in knitting together the various long-distance services and clearing houses in harmonious co-operation it will have to its credit the formation of an auxiliary goods service as much a national. asset as the railways now claim to be.
Moreover, with the consutnmation of this—and I believe that we are now within appreciable reach of it—there seems to be no argument against the publicity and control of rates. Why not institute a Road Haulage Rates Tribunal working on similar lines to and, possibly, in conjunction with the Railway Rates Tribunal') It should go far towards effecting an amicable sense of co-operation between two powerful Systems,
The Difficulty of Classifying Merchandise.
As regards classification, here we face a difficultproblem, but I have no intention of dismissing the matter without claiming that, whilst there are certain goods essentially suited to rail transport, the same may be said to apply equally to road transport. Hauliers who are familiar with Railway Classification Tables will appreciate this. Allowing for the increase in operating costs, hauliers should find their tonnage, generally speaking, not below Class 10 of the current Railway General Classification. of Merchandise. This will offer a wide choice and many an opportunity to push home the two leading arguments in their favour, viz., door-to-door delivery and flexibility.
I am not saying-that competition with the railways as regards rates will necessarily disappear. It may sometimes prove unavoidable. The drastic undercutting, however, that has been a feature of the past will, I feel sure, no longer obtain, and if hauliers hope to last the course they will abandon inter-rivalry by such means.
I can see at present onty one method of classification possible to hauliers, with the exception of special consideration to fragile or dangerous goods, and that is by space in relation to weight. This reminds me that I once carried a full load of clocks to Birmingham at a rate that would make any haulier's month water, but nevertheless below that governed by railway classification, The Criticism of Part HI.
Part III of the report appears to be the real bugbear, judging by opinions ventilated in the Press. Now, in a nutshell, Part III spells disciplinary control, and what could be more abhorrent to the average Briton? It is significant that the additional financial burden foreshadowed in Part II, although strongly criticized, has not drawn nearly so much comment as those recommendations aiming at ensuring that the haulier keeps his house in order. I have a suggestion to offer, and it is that whatever measures are introduced they should be enforced by the various Chambers of Commerce, many of whom already include a sub-committee to deal with transport and kindred matters. Their powers could be extended to control all public carriers within their district, so far as the Ministry of Transport deems advisable and necessary.
As regards a check on wages, hours, etc.. as well as the assurance that vehicles are satisfactorily maintained, this would appear to be not altogether undesirable. Were I to engage the services of a goods vehicle for a period, I should require quite a lot of information about it and about its owner in• order to assure myself that efficient service would be rendered and that my goods would be in safe custody. It is more than probable that the contractor would be only too anxious to reassure me. Is it not reasonable, therefore, that the long-distance haulier, having now become to all intents and purposes a servant of the public, should be required to furnish this , assurance and, for the sake of convenience, to a central -authority?
Precautions and Safeguards Desirable.
Surely, the Government is within its rights to insist on such precautions and safeguards as may appear desirable in the interests of the community as a whole —and the conditions under which both lorry and driver operate must be directly contributory.
I have endeavoured to demonstrate to those engaged in long-distance haulage that the recommendations of the Road-Rail Conference, drastic although they may appear at first sight, may actually prove a blessing and assistance to those who have endeavoured to operate their services in a creditable manner and with some sense of responsibility.
The suggestion that some concession should be made where lorries are engaged in a purely local capacity is a good and fair one, for their general use of the highway, as compared with those working long-llistance services, will be inconsiderable. No doubt some means for identication will be devised, and any abuse will be effectively dealt with.
I have written solely from the viewpoint of the haulier engaged in long-distance work. How the various proposals contained in the report will affect the local haulier and the ancillary user of road transport must be dealt with elsewhere.
Bitterness of feeling between road and rail will, undoubtedly, disappear in time, provided that each side shows the desire to give and take. We look to the authorities, in the meantime, to hold the balance of equity, not only on account of principle, but also as serving the best interests of the public and in accordance with the national policy of fair play.