Before I call on Senator Sir John Keane to speak on the motion before the House, I should like to say that this of course is a matter of very great importance and one in which the public are very deeply interested. It is unfortunate in a way, of course, that we have not had the benefit of the attendance of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, who is intimately acquainted with the matter, and that this should have been suddenly cast on the shoulders of the President. It is also unfortunate that Senator O'Farrell, who has charge of the motion, is not able to be here to-day. I would like to say that I am sure the House would welcome—of course we cannot compel it—the President's views on the main question that was urged by Senator O'Farrell. That was, what the Government policy is with regard to unlimited competition or unrestricted competition on the part of those buses. If their view is that they must ultimately restrict competition, then there is tremendous force in the Senator's point, that the sooner that policy is declared the better, because, in the interval, vested interests of all kinds will be growing up which hereafter will have to form the subject matter of compensation. That was one of the Senator's points. Then there is another point that vitally concerns the public generally, and that is the question of public safety. There is the question of how far these proprietors of buses, whether individuals or companies, should insure the public against third-party risks. I might mention a case, a very sad case, indeed, that occurred in my own neighbourhood within the last few days. As you may have observed, the sides of some of those buses largely extend beyond the wheels, with the result that a wheel may be running on the road while a great portion of the body of the bus overhangs the footpath. In this particular case a poor little child, running along the footpath, not on the road was struck by the body of a bus and killed. I only mention that as showing that the matter is really one of pressing importance.
FINANCE (No. 2) BILL, 1927—COMMITTEE. - INLAND TRAFFIC: REGULATION AND CO-ORDINATION.
I think you yourself, sir, said that in its present amended form this motion commits us to very little and in itself will do nobody very much harm. But there is, I think, a point which members of this House who have views on the subject should deal with—the rather covert attitude of the mover, Senator O'Farrell, that was revealed in the form of the original motion, which called for a special Ministry, or Department, to deal with these transport problems, and it also emerged from the remarks he made with regard to competition. He referred to the chaos of this cut-throat competition. There lies in that statement a great danger, the danger of the reaction on the private enterprise that this whole movement has brought into play. Whatever we may feel about the necessity for regulations, my view is that we must proceed very carefully, because almost for the first time, except perhaps for that regrettable incident of the turning down of the Liffey enterprise, we see private capital emerging and fertilising. It may for the moment assume a rather unregulated and even a dangerous form, but if we proceed too drastically and regulate too closely the effect will certainly be that that very timid element, capital, will withdraw and we will be left then to produce these services out of the taxpayer's pocket, or from some other source, which can never have the same flexibility or initiative as in the case of private enterprise working for profit.
The Senator referred to what he called the waste of capital. It is quite true that if you could capture the resources now employed in the bus traffic and distribute them as some wise man would think fit you might produce a rather better service. But you cannot do that with private enterprise: it will not remain static to be seized by the State and to be diverted to whatever form some authority may think fit; it must be allowed to function freely in the way it thinks best, and of course what would largely influence action on the part of the Government is the question of profits. Do not let us despise profits. Our whole civilisation has been built up on efforts to make profits, and I do not see that we can have a civilisation on any other basis. Senator Brady referred to congestion. I am sure that the Senator has been in other big cities and that he is at least speaking only relatively when he deplores the congestion in this city. Let him picture taking twenty minutes going from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus and then he can talk about congestion. In the real sense of the word there is practically no congestion and no inconvenience to anybody from the traffic in this city. I admit that some element, even a considerable element, of regulation is necessary, particularly in respect of safety and in respect of third party insurance, but I think those can be dealt with as quite simple matters ad hoc, without the necessity for setting up some elaborate coordinating authority. Any new authority would mean increased expense. Someone said that there would be increased correspondence, because somebody would have to answer the letters that the new Department would write. Every new authority has a volume of correspondence written to somebody else; somebody has to answer it, and somebody else wants more staff, and the whole thing goes on increasing like a snowball. Let us try the simple thing first. Deal with these points that have been mentioned here, after careful inquiry—third party insurance and the inspection of buses, especially with a view to safety in case of fire, and see how far that takes us, but do not let us run away with this meglomania that we must set up an elaborate authority, with a large number of officials and an extra Minister, to deal with what can be dealt with on comparatively simple lines.
As I have already said, this is one of the few encouraging signs we have had of the confidence of capital, and I do hope that capital will not be deterred by any hasty, inconsidered action. You will never get under any stereotyped system of enterprise the rapid decision and the flexibility that you will get from private enterprise properly encouraged. No State system will ever develop new districts, move promptly, and serve the public in the way in which they are now being served. They may be over-served. Recently I travelled along the Bray road in this democratic way, and I felt very much cheered by the variety of opportunities for travelling offered to me. I saw one bus with only one person employed, with no conductor at all. In that case some man had sunk a few hundred pounds, his all, in that enterprise. He is trying to run it as economically as he can to make a gain. A person like that should be encouraged in every possible way, and as few obstacles should be placed in the way of his enterprise and economical management as possible.
There is another point that has to be considered in this matter of regulation, and that is the interests of the agricultural community. There is no doubt about it that these bus services are capable of serving the agricultural community very largely in marketing their produce. The agricultural community pays a very large percentage of the costs of the roads. I am not able to give the percentage, but I am able to say that the road fund does not provide half the cost of the maintenance of all the roads, taken together. If you are going to restrict these buses and make their operation more difficult, you are going to hamper the agricultural community, who are paying their share of the cost of these highways and who are the hardest hit class in the community to-day.
I do not think there is anything further I want to say, except to reiterate the necessity for going very slowly in this matter and taking warning from the unfortunate lesson of the railway restrictions. The railways are now suffering from the very onerous restrictions placed upon them, largely by Government interference, in the interests of labour conditions. I do not wish to suggest that undue hours should be worked or undue hardships imposed on any class of employees, but everyone knows now that one of the difficulties that the railway companies have to meet is the practical interpretation of the eight hours day in country districts, which places a totally unreasonable burden on the companies in that they have to keep unnecessary staffs to do work which is in itself of a very light character. A porter, nominally working for eight hours, has little or nothing to do in a wayside country station. All these burdens have created very grave vested interests which are reacting on the community, and I hope that the Government will take warning and not create other vested interests in the matter of road traffic which will again have to be borne by the unfortunate users of the highways.
I was unfortunately absent when Senator O'Farrell's motion was brought before the Seanad. I must admit that the one hindrance to my support of it was the proposal to set up an independent Ministry or Department. With that exception I felt that I was in almost complete accord with him, especially on the question of wasteful expenditure. He mentioned that as one of the reasons for putting forward the proposals contained in the resolution, but it has of course been very materially modified now, and those features are removed. I have felt, especially in recent years, that wasteful expenditure is one of our worst faults. I was brought up in perhaps an extreme school of free trade, with the desire to give everybody free play, and I was taught that competition was the life of trade. I have lived long enough to find that that has to be modified, and that we cannot accept that dictum now, in the way it was presented to me when I was a child. I believe we have at the present day wasteful expenditure in this country in the shape of transport facilities. I cannot help thinking that motor buses running from Dublin to Limerick, from Dublin to Sligo, and from Dublin to Belfast, along lines parallel with railways are anything but waste. The whole object of this opposition is to draw off traffic from the railways, to carry it at exceedingly low rates, and add, as it were, to the impecuniosity of the railways. There are other reasons for such traffic being carried on, such as the desire to have the opposition bought out. That is an old story. I am not sure that the present introduction of motor buses into this country can be classed under that head, but it is a common inducement for people to embark on projects of this kind with a view to being purchased out. It does not appear to me that anything of that kind is justifiable competition.
The main lines of Ireland—not so much as in England—were laid out almost as regards traffic by the famous Railway Commission of 1838. There were extensions, of course, added since, but that was the spirit in which they were laid down, not as competitive lines, but lines to work the country to the best advantage. The feeders of these lines were, of course, the roads of the country. The carts brought in the produce and the cars the passengers. In the same way, it is my conviction that the roads of this country must be feeders of our railways, and that, if a good system of motor traffic can be instituted as a feeder to the railways, we shall attain the very best results.
On the 1st of November, I had the privilege of attending the opening meeting of the Institution of Civil Engineers, held at Westminster, and hearing our President, Mr. Trench, the late chief engineer of the London and North-Western Railway, delivering an address on the subject of transport. He dealt largely, of course, with the historical side of transport during the last hundred years that our Institution has existed, beginning with the roads, and followed up with canals and railways. If the Senate would permit me, I should like to read a few sentences out of his address, because they appear to touch closely on the problem we have before us. His words were:—
No review of the development of inland transport would be complete without some reference to the road motor vehicle, whose development has concentrated attention once more on the roads. This form of locomotion is no doubt still in the early stages of its development, and there are those who would hold that it is destined to render obsolete all other forms of transport. While not denying the wonderful efficiency of the internal-combustion engine the great improvements which have been made in our old roads, and the foresight and vision shown by the Roads Department in constructing new arterial highways, it must be admitted that there is no way by which loads can be moved on land with less expenditure of energy than is possible on a well-graded railway track; and so long as this holds good the railways of this country should be able to retain their fair share of its carrying trade. The commerce of the country demands and deserves the best transport service which can be given, and the virtual monopoly hitherto enjoyed by the railways being now at an end, all they are entitled to ask for is that no undue favours should be accorded to their strongest competitor.
Can it be said that such conditions exist at present?
The railway companies have spent a vast sum—about 1,200 millions—in purchasing land and in the construction of their works, whilst the road motor vehicle finds its track ready made, free of cost.
The railways have an elaborate system of signalling, carried out under Government regulations, which secures an immunity from accident not enjoyed by any other transport service, whereas on the roads (apart from the service rendered by voluntary organisations) such signalling as exists is done by special police, at the cost of the ratepayers.
Again, the railway companies spend each year something like £13,000,000 in maintaining their tracks, whilst the greater part of the cost of repairing the roads falls on the rates, of which the railway companies pay their full share. It is true that a contribution of about £17,000,000 a year is made from the road fund to relieve highway rates, but the ratepayers have to find the balance, amounting to some £38,000,000. Are there not, therefore, good grounds for the contention that road transportation is really in the position of a subsidized industry?
If the railway companies were to receive from the State a grant sufficient to cover two-thirds of their track maintenance cost and nearly the whole of their signalling, they would be placed more nearly on an equal footing and would be able, no doubt, substantially to reduce their rates and fares, but as such a grant is unlikely to materialise, equity requires that the cost of road maintenance and road signalling should be transferred from the shoulders of the ratepayers to those of the road users. It is not unreasonable to suggest that, road transport having been revolutionised, the whole of our fiscal system of road maintenance should be reformed and that we should now revert to the principles enunciated at the time of the passing of the first Turnpike Act, namely, that as it is inequitable for a district to be burdened with the support of roads for the service of a distant quarter of the kingdom, the expenses of making and repairing all roads should fall on those who actually wear them and reap the benefit of them.
It is fortunately not necessary to erect toll bars for the collection of road dues. Nearly all the damage to roads is done by motor vehicles, and the great majority of these vehicles are driven by internal combustion motors. A duty on motor spirit would therefore be a convenient method to adopt for collecting road dues, and would be fairly equitable, being roughly proportional to the mileage run and the damage done. It is true that under this system the farmer's cart, the pedal bicycle and the few remaining pedestrians, would escape road taxes, but no one will grudge the farmer this small amount of preferential treatment, and the wear of roads by pedestrians and bicycles must be negligible.
Special arrangements would have to be made for taxing the steam-driven vehicle and for preventing evasion of the duty, but once the principle is accepted that the cost of all road repairs must be borne by the vehicles which cause the damage and reap the benefit, it should not be impossible to devise a workable scheme. The experience of other countries would seem to show that the difficulties incidental to this as to all new forms of taxation, are not insuperable.
In this case the new taxation will not mean an additional burden for the nation to bear, for road costs will be no higher; it only means the transference of the load to the appropriate shoulder. The arrangement suggested would seem to be an equitable one; it would enable the trader and the traveller to judge more accurately than he can now do whether the rail or the road vehicle is the more economical, and it would remove from the State the reproach of favouring one form of transport at the expense of another. Both are necessary for the well-being of the nation and all that either is entitled to ask for is "a fair field and no favour."
These words appear to me to be the expression of a trained and balanced mind.
The resolution of Senator O'Farrell, as first proposed, aims at the provision of the machinery for obtaining these objects, and dealing with:—1. National and local regulation or control. 2. Wasteful competition. 3. Disregard of public safety. 4. Unnecessary export of capital. I am under the impression that in various sections of diverse Acts of Parliament the Minister for Industry and Commerce or other of his colleagues on the Executive Council have powers to deal with these several points. The Minister will have little difficulty in making this clear, and I feel sure that if he thinks such powers should be consolidated and vested in one Department he will receive the support of this House.
The resolution as amended last Wednesday centres on "the regulation and co-ordination of all branches of inland transport." It will be in the recollection of the Seanad that in an interesting debate on the 30th March, 1926, the word "co-ordination" came under review, and in reply to certain remarks by Senator Kenny the Minister for Industry and Commerce replied as follows:—
"Senator Kenny referred to a certain discussion which took place recently in the Dáil, and as he, quite unwittingly, I am sure, rather misrepresented me, I feel that I should make an explanation. He has referred to co-ordination and his remarks would, I think, leave people under the impression that I had simply laughed at the word ‘co-ordination' and had turned down the whole idea. Then the Senator went on to quote from a recent speech of the Chairman of the Great Southern Railways on the matter. Might I be permitted to quote from my own speech on Friday last on this matter:—
"‘Whatever form of co-ordination is necessary—and I believe it is necessary in one form or another —is being looked into at the moment, and whatever can be done by the Departments as they are at present will be done.'
I simply mention that to show that I was speaking only against those people who thoughtlessly say 'co-ordination,' and believe, having said that word, that they have finished with the whole problem. I pointed out the difficulty that there might be in co-ordination and the odd thousands of hackney motor drivers there are in the country, and said that there might be co-ordination and some grouping, and some compulsion with regard to these people. If there are any specific details that would help, the Department would be glad to have them; but what has been said so far is merely a waving about of the word ‘co-ordination,' and an impression thereafter that once you have said that and add on a Ministry of Transport, you have the whole question solved."
That makes me regret that the reasons and aims of co-ordination as given in Senator O'Farrell's first resolution have been wiped out. Co-ordination, in my opinion, will require a strong overriding authority with powers to put a stop to wasteful competition, who would decide on the lines of transport and that heavy motor lorries and public passenger vehicles should be licensed for particular routes and that drivers' licences should only be given to trained and efficient drivers. The present method of issuing licences is simply a scandal and public menace. I gladly support a resolution which will induce the Government to face this problem before it becomes still more involved, and I endorse Mr. Trench's desire: "A fair field and no favour."
Notwithstanding what Senator Sir J. Keane has said, I think a very strong case has been made here in favour of some authority which will control and regulate in a systematic manner the transport services of the country. The variety of transport services, their wasteful competition, and the energy and effort which are expended uselessly, if properly co-ordinated, would form a very useful national asset. Senator O'Farrell, in his very lucid and able speech, which showed a considerable amount of care and research, almost touched every phase of the question. I think he should not offer any apology for doing so, because every country in the world at present is up against problems of transport and giving them very considerable examination. When the motor car first made its appearance it was called the toy of the rich. At present prices, even people having the most modest income can indulge in a motor car. But the number of motors has, of course, taken away from the public safety. Motor cars are sometimes driven by reckless and incompetent drivers, and are a public danger, and as such should be under some regular authority. Since the advent of the motor bus the perils of the road have become accentuated. It was only last week that I saw where a motor bus in the Six Counties, carrying a party belonging to Ormiston Gun Club, had a smash, with the result that one person was killed and seven injured. It is quite obvious, when accidents of that kind occur, that some steps should be taken by which, as far as possible, the danger of accidents should be eliminated. There appears to be a divergency of opinion here as to whether a Ministry of Transport should be set up or whether a Department in connection with some other Ministry should take control of this matter. It was even suggested that it should be left to local authorities. I should have no objection to either of the two first suggestions, but to leave it to local authorities would be very unwise. It would mean diversity of opinion and diversity of action, and would not make for safety and that uniform control which is so absolutely necessary.
I am not, of course, against the motor bus. I think it has come to stay, and that it is introducing into the ordinary dull life of the country an element which will do away with some of its monotony. Yesterday, Senator Farren told us of a labourer's wife who had four miles to go to a neighbouring market town. The bus passes her door now, and she goes there in comfort, possibly with safety, and at a small fare. That is something. At the same time, the introduction of motor services and motor power has done very serious harm to three different phases of the country's life—agriculture, the railways and the roads. As to agriculture, 25 years ago in every town there were some hotels, each of which had a posting establishment, and kept 20 or 30 horses, with men to attend to them. There were the corn, hay, and various other bills for agricultural produce to be paid. The coach-builder, the saddler, and people engaged in other occupations of that kind, got employment. All these are now practically wiped out by the advent of the motor car. Ninety per cent. of what was used in these posting establishments was produced at home. Ninety-five per cent. of what is used in connection with motor cars and buses is produced abroad. That is responsible, to some extent, for our present adverse balance of trade.
With regard to the roads, I do not think that at any time in my experience the roads were kept in such a perfect condition. I think the Government is to be congratulated on the work they have done and the effects they have produced on the roads. I am sorry the Minister for Local Government is not here, because I could give him some personal information about at least two of the counties, but I shall put it before the President. The two counties I visit where the roads are worst are the County Cavan and the County Longford. I was in County Cavan last week and the condition of the streets in Cavan—I mentioned this to the Minister to-day—were a disgrace. There is a heavy motor traffic through the town of Cavan, and I suppose that is responsible for some part of the condition of the streets. At the same time in a case of that kind the Government might do something special. I also visited Wexford. At present Wexford has its streets beautifully concreted and they are a delight. On the other hand, the streets of Cavan are a disgrace to civilisation. There is mud all along them. It may be the fault of the Urban Council, but at any rate the mud is there and it is imperative that something should be done at once. Senator Toal, speaking of the railways, said it was a great injustice that these motor services, paying little taxation, should come into competition with railways paying such huge rates and taxes, and with that I perfectly agree. I have no great sympathy with the railway companies. I have always found them impervious to reason or expostulation of any kind. They simply ignore you, and when they were on the crest of the wave I do not think they really did any more than they are doing at present. In an ordinary business concern when the heads of the firm find that trade is falling off what steps do they take? They introduce something that will bring back trade. They brighten up their business and adopt new methods, but not so the railway companies. Before the war the railway companies had at least, occasionally, a fire in some of their waiting-rooms. Now, a few weeks ago there was a fortnight of very severe weather and not in one of the waiting-rooms, in any of the stations I visited, was there a fire.
The waiting-room was cold, dreary and comfortless as a railway tunnel. At the same time if you passed by the stationmaster's office you would find a glorious fire. You would also find one if you went down to the signal cabin. For the customers of the railway no provision whatsoever was made. I do not know how this thing can be approached. I only mention it. It may be perhaps more or less irrelevant to the discussion that we are engaged in. I mention it here simply that it should be known that this is the method of management and that the sympathy that goes out to the railway companies is wasted on an unworthy object. When the Railway Bill was introduced a lot of people thought that the Government would take its courage into its hands and introduce some form of nationalisation. Instead of that, they formed a hydra-headed directorate with sixteen directors. That was not sufficient, and then they formed a tribunal of three more. I have no hesitation in saying that any railway man with ordinary experience of railway matters would manage the railways in a much better way than this hydra-headed combination that is in control now. I intend voting for the motion and I regret I cannot vote for Senator Barrington's amendment, or rather addendum, because I think it puts off until to-morrow what should be done to-day.
I intend to say very little on this motion, but I would like to impress on the Ministry the necessity of doing something and doing it very quickly. I think we all realise the necessity of having proper supervision of bus traffic. There seems to be great confusion in the minds of Senators as regards private motor cars, hackney motor cars, and buses. One would imagine, when listening to some Senators, that the buses paid all the taxes. You will find that the buses contribute a very small amount to the taxation of the country, though, at the same time, they do enormous damage to the roads. It is very necessary in the public interest that some legislation should be passed at once to safeguard the public. These buses go at a very high speed, and you now find on the roads all sorts of conveyances, and people with private motor cars, who are contributing, perhaps, more largely to taxation than the bus concerns, have to draw in to the side of the road, to the ditches, in order to allow the buses to pass. Even farmers going along the roads with their carts are in danger. Then there is another important element in the community which must be considered, little children going to school. Time after time I have witnessed buses going at a very high speed and little tots going to school were in great danger of being run over. The object of this debate is, I think, principally to impress on the Ministry the necessity of introducing legislation to control this traffic as soon as possible. Another aspect of the question is that much of this traffic is wasteful. Take, for instance, miles of railways and roads which lie parallel. I think there is a great deal of waste there which the Ministry should not allow to take place.
Senator Duffy yesterday conveyed the impression that the railway companies were very small contributors to the rates. On the last occasion on which I spoke here I gave a figure which I afterwards found was altogether too small. In the county from which I come the railway company pays the very large sum of £4,575 towards the rates of that county. Senator Duffy told us about what was paid into the road fund. I find that the amount paid into that fund in my county by the owners of private motor cars, hackney motor cars, motor buses and other conveyances is something like £10,000. It can be seen, therefore, that the railway company pay almost half as much as that paid by these other sources of taxation. I want to make it clear that I have no brief for the railway companies. I disapprove of the management of the railway companies as strongly as Senator McKean or anybody else. Time after time I have tried to remedy that and to impress on the directors of a certain line of railway the necessity of having business men on the directorate and having the line conducted in a business-like way. I failed in that. I am, at the same time, out for fair competition. There is in my county a little line of railway and a stretch of road which runs parallel. The distance is eighteen and five-eighth miles, and within the last three years we spent on that road a sum of £13,156, but as soon as we spent that money and made the road suitable for motor and other traffic, the buses tore it up, with the result that we will soon have to spend another large sum on it. The buses on that road pay very little to taxation. When we turn to the railway company we find that on that short distance of railway the company pay almost £400 a week in wages. That is over £20,000 a year and is a very serious consideration. I think our authorities should see that this useless competition and waste should not be allowed to occur. If we take what is contributed from that one county and what is paid in labour we find that it amounts to something over £50,000 a year.
The time has come when the Government should step in and so arrange the traffic that it would be profitable and useful to the State and all concerned. Some proper supervision must take place, and I think that some things are allowed to happen in connection with the bus traffic which should not be permitted. There was, for instance, yesterday a report in the newspapers in which it was stated that certain bus owners were fined for travelling at forty-one miles an hour. That should not be allowed. I would be in favour of having this bus traffic properly controlled and, where there are roads suitable for such traffic, buses should not be allowed to run on roads that were not intended for them. Senator Dowdall told us that the county councils can control such traffic. They can, in a very roundabout way. The county council have no control over that road on which, as I have mentioned, we spent a large sum of money. It is now suitable for bus traffic, but the buses are going on other roads which are altogether unsuitable for them and which the county council maintain for the benefit of people for whom they were intended, but the buses come along and cut them up. Again I desire to impress on the Executive Council the necessity of doing something to control that traffic and prevent waste as far as possible, especially where there are parallel stretches of railway and roads which are maintained at great expense but without much benefit to the State.
Before the President speaks I want to call attention to the way the matter stands. There is the motion on the agenda as debated. Then, there is what is called an amendment to this, but it is really a motion to add something. What I propose to do is, when the debate is concluded, to put Senator O'Farrell's motion to the House in the shape in which it stands on the Order Paper. If it is passed I will take the opinion of the House as to whether they wish to add to it what is being moved by Senator Barrington. Before that, I want to call attention to the fact that it is not quite clear, as the amendment stands, whether the Committee he proposes would be confined to members of both Houses. I suggest, in order to put that beyond all doubt, to alter the amendment so that it will read: "and approves of the appointment of a Committee to be composed of members of each House of the Oireachtas, with power to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents."
I take a deep personal interest in this subject, and I wish to impress on the President the necessity for immediate legislation dealing with road traffic. I live on the roadside 30 miles from Dublin on the main road to Carlow and Limerick. The traffic on that road is daily increasing and the motor bus traffic has reached an extraordinary volume, with the result that those of us who are in the cattle trade find we are almost driven off the road. We cannot drive cattle with any degree of safety, and we have been obliged to avail of back roads where there is no motor traffic when we want to reach Dublin. We consider that is a great hardship. Motor bus drivers seem to have the idea that no one should be on the roads but themselves. They seem to consider themselves superior persons and to think that the people who originally had the use of these roads have no right to use them now. The road from Naas to Dublin is a splendid one for motor traffic, and that is a great inducement to people driving cars to travel at an excessive rate of speed, some of them going thirty or forty miles an hour unknown to themselves. Legislation should be introduced which should compel these people to recognise that other people have a right to use the road as well as themselves. Last week I wanted to catch a train and was travelling in a motor car. There was a motor lorry in front and I had to travel a mile before it allowed me to pass. These motor buses and lorries keep to the centre of the road and drive other people using the roads to the extreme edges, and on to the ditches. I would be very glad to assist a Committee in regulating traffic on a proper basis so as to preserve for the people the rights they formerly enjoyed.
The discussion has branched off in many different directions. The motion before the Seanad is that the question of the regulation and co-ordination of all branches of inland transport is urgent. This motion was put down within the last month, but the Executive Council was apparently aware of the fact that the matter was urgent since in April last it set up an inter-departmental committee to examine into the whole question. Every item mentioned by Senator O'Farrell yesterday was within the scope of the examination of that committee, and has already been examined by it. The Seanad is asked, in November or December, to say this matter is urgent, but the Executive Council had it in mind last April that it was urgent. What is anticipated as a result of the passing of this motion? That the Executive Council is satisfied that the question is more urgent? Is it expected hurry on that which has already been considered? If we examine the amendment we will find that while the Seanad is asked to pronounce the matter urgent it is also asked to wait until a committee of both Houses is set up, presumably in February or March of next year, in order to find out at that time that a problem is urgent which was discovered to be urgent by the Executive Council in April last. I am not quite sure what is meant by the motion or by most of the discussion that has taken place. As everybody knows, the railway company in this country came into existence many years ago. It got many rights and many liabilities. One of its liabilities is that it is what is called a common carrier, and must carry all goods. That is not so with regard to this new traffic which we are told is dangerous, is a menace to public safety, is an interference with the rights of pedestrians and motorists, and so on. In the case of the railroads we admit, and I suppose it will be generally admitted, that it is inadvisable to see a big organisation, highly capitalised, having many persons existing on its dividends, very seriously handicapped. At the same time there is considerable agitation to have no interference whatever with the rights of buses on the roads, as they are serving the public need.
In the course of the discussion we have been asked to co-ordinate the traffic. What is meant by "co-ordination"? Could we get a simple explanation of it? Does it mean that in respect of passenger traffic the railways should be ordered off and that the buses should have complete control; that the co-ordination should be of such a character as that a fair field and no favour would result in favour of those that are running the buses who are interested in this new line of traffic, or are we to concern ourselves with what is the principal matter of the moment to everybody in the country, to see that transport here is efficient, that transport is something that we can bank upon for the future to give us transit of goods and passengers at reasonable prices? If you are going to demand that, I can reasonably anticipate a case being put up to me by the railway company, that they should get the control of the whole traffic in order that the cheapest prices might be ensured to those anxious to participate—a perfectly businesslike proposition it would be. But I take it from some of the speeches that I have heard that that would be inadvisable. We are told that bus traffic is dangerous to public safety, and I find from the returns furnished by the Statistical Department that the number of vehicles carrying six and over six passengers amounts to 561. Divide that over the whole country and it does not appear to me that there has been a clear case made for placing restrictions on that sphere of activity. We can go on and see that from that number it is not likely to anticipate it is anything in excess of what are the needs at the moment.
In considering the needs at the moment one must pay some attention to the traffic that is attracted towards this new sphere of transport. Obviously traffic had been created for the buses. I think it is quite clear that whatever the railway routes have lost in that connection a new era of traffic has been opened by reason of the activity of bus owners and so on. And we are asked now to come in and co-ordinate all these. For what purpose? Are we advised, or is there the inferences from the speeches that we have listened to, that in respect to the Bray road, where somebody told us there were six different bus lines operating, we are to draw a line and say that no more than six would be allowed? Then, in respect of the hours of the day at which they are to operate, are we to say that number one bus would go at eleven o'clock, number two at twelve o'clock, and so on like that? Now, obviously, if I am to take all the advice I have got here, I will be instructed to arrest some man who is seen walking along the Bray road for wearing his boots when he should travel by train or by bus. The same with regard to the cyclist or motor car.
I have suffered in the same way as Senator O'Connor in respect of those buses that have been in front of me, but I have usually managed to get in front of them, and I am sure the bus driver is not satisfied when that happens. Somebody must be behind. I think that really the motor driver must be travelling at a higher rate of speed if he gets up to and passes out the bus driver. While I do admit that buses take up a considerable space on the road, it is not fair to ask the bus drivers to get into the ditch in order to enable whoever is following to pass out. Some of these roads are so narrow as almost to precipitate the driver into the ditch. I submit first that the purpose of this motion now before us is being achieved by the setting up of the Inter-Departmental Committee which is at present considering this matter, and, secondly, that the amendment, if it were passed, would delay the urgent consideration of this question. As I said yesterday, the solution of a problem necessitates a problem to solve. Two or three years ago this problem was not with us. I regret that at that time the main transport organisation in the country did not get into the bus business, because I have perhaps more conservative ideas on waste than some of the speakers who are here, and of the fact that a multitude of persons operating does not mean increasing efficiency and that it might have been better if there had been a single organisation. That is not the situation to-day, and we are not called upon to come in now and regulate all these different bus owners, some to poor routes and others to good routes, and to put a limit on the number of buses that should operate on a particular road. If there has been a congestion of buses on particular roads that is a matter which will be dealt with and reported on by the Inter-Departmental Committee. I doubt if it is likely that the passing of such a motion as this, even by both Houses of the Oireachtas, would get more evidence which would enable the Executive Council to produce legislative proposals if we were to consider them necessary at any earlier date or in any ampler form than is at present being achieved by the Inter-Departmental Committee. Senator Farren mentioned yesterday the extraordinary case, as he thought, of a railway route and an ordinary road running from one town to another and the railway company having buses on that road. If a railroad company find that the number of passengers travelling from one town to another does not pay the cost of wear and tear and the resultant costs, then it is quite within their right to see whether they could not carry passengers at a cheaper rate by bus than by the railway.
And discontinue their train service?
That is a matter which they might ultimately consider the necessity for discontinuing, or it may be that they can find some new traffic. What has happened in this case is that a considerable amount of new traffic has arisen by reason of the institution of the buses. At the moment it does not appear that 561 buses warrant all the fears which have been expressed concerning this matter. Until we get a report from the Committee which is sitting at present investigating this matter and they bring in any recommendations that are considered necessary, the passing or otherwise of this motion does not matter. It had been receiving consideration so long as two or three years ago, when it was considered advisable to alter the incidence of taxation on motor cars, lorries, and so on. The bus problem at that time was negligible. The number of buses that were running at the time was very small, and it was considered advisable not to put too high a tax on buses then. That is a matter which does not bind us in the future. The question of the imposition of such a tax as will ensure that they will pay their fair proportion of the cost will be gone into. I believe it is inevitable that the motor taxation on buses will increase considerably. I am expressing my own view when I say that I think buses should not be allowed travel at 40 miles an hour on the road. I am expressing also my own view when I say that buses of a certain width should not be allowed on narrow roads; that while the buses have a right to the road they have not a right to dominate the road or the traffic. Yesterday Senator Duffy gave the figures concerning the expenditure on roads, and he gave the exact figures. The expenditure by the county councils on the roads in 1913-14 was £670,960. That expenditure rose up to £1,363,567 in 1923-24. In the present year, or at least in 1926-27, the amount was £1,073,132——
It will be less this year.
The sum from the road fund in 1926-27 was £735,098, and this was an increase over 1913-14 of about 60 per cent. That expenditure would have to be undertaken by the county councils if there had been no motor traffic at all. My own personal opinion is that motor traffic should pay its own cost, and the taxation imposed a couple of years ago, the alteration which took place in the incidence of motor taxation at that time, was graded upon a 40 per cent. increase of expenditure by the county councils for the present year 1927-28 over 1913-14. I think that was a fair increase, an increase which is scarcely commensurate with the extra costs of labour and the extra costs of material.
So far as talking about reckless and incompetent drivers is concerned, I would like to express my own view. A man buys a car for £100 or £2,000. No matter what price he pays, it is probably as much as he can afford. In order to see that there is no unnecessary extravagance in the matter he will probably get taught sufficient about the driving of a car to ensure its use to him for a considerable time. In the same way a motor bus owner, in securing his driver, usually makes an attempt to ensure that he is going to get service which will guarantee the use of the bus to him for a considerable period. To-day I believe any blind person can get a motor licence, but it is not true that a blind person has driven his own or anybody else's motor, as far as I have heard. From my own experience, and I cover as much ground as anybody else, doing 30,000 to 35,000 miles in the year, the motor bus drivers that I have seen are particularly competent drivers and a great many private owners might reasonably take some lessons from them.
As far as the two towns that were mentioned are concerned, and, indeed, many other instances mentioned about local authorities, all this business of government postulates some reasonable co-operation between all parties in the State. There is one county council which has absolutely refused to give its sanction to any bus route. That is not reasonable. We cannot get on with business in that way. If there is any accident, or if there is any abuse in connection with that county, the county council can wash its hands of it and say, "We have no responsibility, as we refused to sanction that route." There is a good deal of stone-age philosophy about that. There are certain local authorities in the country that seek to evade responsibility in connection with road maintenance and other matters of that kind. We have had considerable trouble in devising some means of bringing them to their senses. They are gradually being brought to their senses. They must be made realise that while we levy money from motor owners in respect of the road fund, motor owners are entitled to expect that the ordinary sum in respect of maintenance and road repair which would normally have been the burden of the local authority, if they had never come into existence, would be so spent by them.
Though there may be reason for dissatisfaction in many places, let us be content to recollect that three or four or five years ago the road problem here was a very big problem. It is now a very small problem. A greater improvement has been effected in the roads of this country within five years than in any other country in the world. I have travelled over roads in other fairly rich countries, countries perhaps much more rich than this, and I often wondered why it was the springs of the cars manufactured in these countries were so good. I knew the reason as soon as I travelled over the roads. It is a matter of great satisfaction to us that foreigners who travel over the roads in this country admit that there are very few countries in which there has been such a remarkable improvement in the roads. That improvement has been brought about to a very considerable extent by bus activity.
When we receive the Committee's report, having the opinion before us which they have arrived at through an examination of the problem, then we will be in a position to produce for the Oireachtas such legislation as may be considered necessary.
The President has informed us that an Inter-Departmental Committee has been considering this question since April of this year. I think that does not meet the question of urgency set out in this motion. During all that time there has been an increasing supply of buses. New buses are being introduced, new services are being set up, and new vested interests are being created. As well as that some of the buses that are run, as we know, are not suitable for the roads. During all this time the Inter-Departmental Committee has been sitting. In addition, I may mention that many buses are running without a third-party insurance policy being taken out. There are many of them, at least, so running, and we are told it is not obligatory on them to take out such a policy. I think the Seanad should pass this motion. I feel the Inter-Departmental Committee might be hastened a little in their decision by the unanimous passing of this motion.
The motion I am about to put is as follows:—
"That the Seanad is of opinion that the question of the regulation and co-ordination of all branches of inland transport is urgent and demands the earliest consideration by the Executive Council."
It is suggested that the following should be added to the motion:—
"To add at the end of the motion the words ‘and approves the appointment of a Committee composed of members of each House of the Oireachtas, with power to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents; such Committee to submit proposals as to the best means for dealing with the problem.'"