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CAN HORSE TRANSPORT MAKE A COME-BACK?

Unlike trucks, horses make their own replacements, run on locally-grown fuel and only need simple accessories produced, often from local materials, in unsophisticated workshops, to make them fully effective. And, if using them involves more work than their fossil-powered equivalent, that is a benefit rather than a disadvantage for people anxious to create incomes for each other rather than for financiers and factory workers long distances away.

For deliveries in towns or within a limited area, a two-horse dray is as cost efficient as a four-tonne van, or so close to being so as makes no difference, according to the most recent study , which was prepared in 1985 for the Shire Horse Society by an economist, Ian Webster, whose data was based on the experience on three of the dozen or so breweries which still keep horses for local distribution.42 Obviously, the actual figures he used are rather old now, but a study today would produce broadly the same result.

Webster assumed that both the van and the dray would travel twelve miles in the course of a working day and distribute eight tonnes of goods on each of 240 days a year. The capital cost of the horses, (£1,100 each) their tack and the dray (£2,600) was less than half that of the van (£9,500), and so cost less in interest. They also cost less in depreciation - the horses were reckoned to have a working life of fourteen years and were written off over that period while the dray, which, as Webster pointed out, could easily serve for 50 years, was depreciated over 25. This gave a total depreciation figure of £274, compared with £1,902 for the van. Maintenance on the dray was much lower than on the van - £331 compared with £1,727 - and its insurance was less too.

The only advantages that could be claimed for the van were that it was cheaper to garage and to fuel, and cost less for labour, because, unlike the horses, it did not have to be fed, watered and mucked-out at weekends. The £1,400 difference in labour costs that this entailed meant that the dray cost £22 a year more to run than the van over the year.

Webster's actual figures were:

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Two-horse dray Motor van
1. Stabling or garage   1,445     863
2. Insurance     160     220
3. Road tax     -     130
4. Wages   9,369   7,969
5. Depreciation     274   1,902
6. Interest     264     809
7. Horsekeep   2,244     -
8. Sundries     212    -
9. Fuel and oil    -     487
10. Tyres    -     170
11. Maintenance     331   1,727
TOTALS14,299 14,277

If payments numbered 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10 and 11 go largely to recipients outside the community in exchange for the goods and services they supply, the dray is a very much more self-reliant method of transport since only 5.4% of the costs associated with it leave the area compared with 38% for the van.

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