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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 61

The Differential Rating System.*

The Differential Rating System.*

In dealing with this method of trading, or rather of legalised plunder and robbery, I shall offer no apology for using very plain and forcible language; indeed, I am certain that the Anglo-Saxon tongue does not furnish words sufficiently strong for the purpose.

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If the whole history of commerce, from the earliest times, was searched with the minutest care, I do not believe it would be possible to find in its darkest records anything to equal the differential rating system for unmitigated dishonesty. How it could have come into almost universal use I cannot imagine, and still more do I wonder that our great writers have failed to notice, and point out the enormous influence for evil it must have on commercial and social affairs.

Like every other evil thing, to be successful it must be worked in secret, and in England and America where it is in full swing, the greatest possible care is taken to conceal the rates. The Legislature has passed numerous Acts to protect the public, but without avail. English law states clearly and distinctly that all rates must be published, and that every man has a right to know what he has to pay, and why he has to pay.

In order to evade these Acts the Companies complicate the rates to the utmost, and to such an extent is this carried, that Sir Edward Watkin—the greatest railway authority in England—stated to the Royal Commission of 1881 that there were upwards of 10,000,000 (ten million) different rates in existence on the Great Northern railway alone. Thus it will be seen that although the rates may be published, no ordinary man could read them, and so the Companies can charge just as they please.

In discussing this question of differential rating, we must remember that a great distinction is to be drawn between railways owned by private companies and railways owned by the community. In the one case a few individual investors own them, and therefore if they keep within the limits of the concessions granted by Parliament, they have the legal, if not the moral right, to regulate their charges as they please.

The case is very different where the railways are the property of the whole community. Then every individual has an absolute right to be placed on a perfect equality with his neighbour.

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I do not know by whose authority this vile system has been introduced on our railways, but I am quite certain that the Legislature never contemplated that an Auckland man should be charged 15s. 8d. for the same service that a Christchurch man gets rendered for 8s.; or that, "for the purpose of computing freight," 31 miles in Canterbury should be "deemed" to be only 15 miles, while the full, or more than the full, distance is charged for in every other district.

I know that I shall be told that the country round Christ-church is flat, and that, therefore, haulage is cheaper. The same argument would apply to the Waikato delta, the Thames Valley, and numerous other districts all over the colony. Is our sense of right so blunted? Are our views so limited that we cannot see we are doing a grievous wrong, as well as a most foolish act, in allowing this state of things to exist? Surely, if any difference is made, it should be in favour of men who have had the courage, the energy, and the perseverance to face the numerous difficulties attendant upon founding a settlement, say, like Taranaki. Why should these men have extra taxation imposed upon them in order to give the benefit to men who have had no difficulties whatever to contend with?

* For a description of the social evils brought about by this iniquitous system, I must refer to the Appendix. When denouncing it, I hope I shall not be mistaken, and that my readers will be good enough to remember that it is the system, and not the men who administer it, that I find fault with. They are only carrying out a plan that has been arranged for them, and for which they are in no way responsible.

I gladly avail myself of this opportunity of repeating what I have often said before: That if the men on the New Zealand lines were not far above the average, both in intelligence and integrity, they could render the existence of users of the railway unbearable, so numerous are the openings for fraud and annoyance.