Matters Of Moment, June 1950




It is not only the keen motorist who is infuriated and disheartened by the savage increase in the petrol tax. The cost of living for us all must rise in consequence of the increased cost of road transport. The first repercussion was the threat to withdraw London’s taxis. Now, for some indefinable reason taxis are considered by those in power to be vital to the lifeblood of the Metropolis. We remember walking through Hyde Park during the worst period of the war, when petrol had been withheld from private motorists, and being astonished by the flocks of taxis that went by, quite outnumbering the flocks of sheep that were cropping the park’s wide acres. So we were not surprised last month when the Government promptly agreed to put up taxi-fares by 3d. a journey. Bus fares will go up, too, and the cost of goods delivered by road, such as your laundry, will rise also. The public in general will suffer for this burden Sir Stafford Cripps has had to place on the motorist.

That the tax is a harsh one and ruthlessly applied cannot be denied. Tobacco, beer, cinema seats remain static, but petrol costs 9d. more for every gallon. This can only have the effect of making Britain a country of little cars—and a country forced to motor in the most economical of small motor cars cannot appear anything else but “small” in the eyes of the world.

That Sir Stafford himself felt dubious of the reception his increased petrol tax would receive is obvious from his statement that with it he would ” double the basic ration:” THE BASIC PETROL WILL NOT BE DOUBLED.

When petrol was restored to ordinary users after the war it was rationed at 180 miles a month. The Government halved this ration, but, last year, and again this year, sanctioned the former ration during June, July and August—so that you could drive the handsome distance of 1.9 miles a day during the summer months. All Sir Stafford has guaranteed to do to offset his fantastic tax is to restore the full basic ration for the last four months of 1950. This at a time when opposition opinion tells us that petrol rationing could easily be abolished altogether, as it has been in so many other countries, Germany included. The motoring organisations should spare no steps to make this abundantly clear.

What do heavy taxation of the lowest grade petrol, purchase tax on new cars, restricted steel allocation to the motor industry, increased insurance rates, and the 25s. per h.p. road fund tax on all but the more recent cars, add up to ? More passengers for British Railways–or so the Government hopes. Yet, while it is possible to do so all those who have enjoyed the freedom of personal transport in the past will strive to retain that freedom, even if reduced to cars in the Austin Seven and Morris Minor class or the motor-cycle, the Corgi or the auto-cycle. At least in your car the heater works when you want it to, the windows stay closed when shut, smuts do not soil your belongings, the interior is (or can be) properly clean, you travel sitting instead of strap-hanging, in company of your own choosing, and you are not insulted before the commencement of your journey by loudspeaker announcements telling you that “First-class seats are for holders of first-class tickets” —a truly remarkable statement from a nationalised undertaking during it Socialist régime! And, writing on April 26th, it seems apposite to remark, too, that coaches and cars are less inconvenienced by a fall of overnight snow than British Railways.

Those readers who cannot stretch even the ‘generously increased” petrol ration to cover all their journeys should consider travel by coach. Your Editor does this whenever possible—”keeping his money off the rails”— and finds it more economical, civilised and comfortable than the train, and nearly as quick if a car is used between home and a suitable boarding point.

The hardest hit of all motorists by the new tax are the users of the more thirsty sports and high-performance cars. They pay dearly for their personal preference and pleasures. And, just as you are entitled to expect better service in your club than in a wayside café, more attention from the staff of the Dorchester than from a waitress in Lyons’ Corner House, so is the motorist, most highly taxed member of the community, entitled to look for greater courtesy from the police. No longer must he be told to “move on, no parking here” unless such a request is politely accompanied by concise directions for reaching the nearest free car park; and in future he has every right to be annoyed if he is stopped when driving his vintage tourer for no better reason than a check to see if his screen is of safety-glass or whether his insurance is in order.

Of recent times motorists and the “mobiles” have had a close understanding of one another’s problems and have worked in harmony towards a reduction in the toll of the road. If something of the old animosity between the overtaxed motorist and the police should arise this will be just another matter for which Sir Stafford Cripps must take the blame. If any of you feel sorry for him, it can only be as you feel for a drowning man clinging to a moist straw.