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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 68

The Railway Problem in New Zealand

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The Railway Problem in New Zealand.


It is now more than seven and a-half years since I placed my scheme for reforming the administration of our railways before the public.

My main propositions were: 1. Mileage rating must be abolished and a stage system of rating substituted. 2. Differential rating must also be abolished, and fixed and equitable rates substituted. 3. That railways must be worked by the Government in the interest of the whole people, and that they must no longer be regarded as tax-gathering machines.

Many will remember the derision with which the railway department and their friends met me; but events move on, and the legislative action of the greatest nations of the world has shown that I was right. England and America, by the most stringent laws, have abolished differential rating, and Hungary, Austria, Spain, and Hesse have abolished mileage rating. The other nations must follow.

Why did we not lead in this great forward movement, which commenced here? Simply because it did not suit Messrs. Maxwell, Hannay, Richardson, and Mitchelson. The colony will have something to say about this before long.

In the following papers I have dealt mainly with the financial portion of the question, indeed in all my writings, so far, have touched very lightly on the vast social interests involved. If I appear to have neglected this part of the subject, it is not because I have not appreciated its vast importance, but because in the present position of the colony I have felt that it was useless to advocate any reform in railway administration that would not show immediately good financial results.

As a matter of fact it is the social aspect of the question that has mainly occupied my mind, that caused me to take up the work, and has induced me to persevere in it.

I believe there are none of us, who can for see the vast social revolution that will be brought about—I say will be, for it is only a question of a very short time—by the abolition of mileage and differential rating, and the substitution of stage rating, with fixed, equitable, and cheap fares, rates, and charges.

This chancre must take place, the world over, in the next few years; it has become a necessity of the age.

The motives that have actuated me in carrying on this contest have been greatly misrepresented, and it is perhaps right that I should say something on the subject.

Some, chiefly paid officers of labour associations, have thought proper to persistently state that I am the agent of certain land owners, and have worked in their interests and theirs only. The fact is these individuals dread the effect of my work, they are probably acute enough to know that if I succeed in my effort their occupation is gone. They know that there would speedily arise such a natural and continuous demand for labour that the grievances between the classes would quickly disappear.

Of all men, I despise most those who make their living out of the real or supposed wrongs of their fellow creatures. As a rule they never have made, and are incapable of making, the least self-sacrifice, and are ever ready to impugn the motives of those who disinterestedly work-for the public-good. They cannot comprehend such characters.

An incident in my early life gave me a lasting interest in the poorer classes of society, and when in the early part of 1862 I returned to London, I naturally took to spending a portion of my time in working among the very poor of that vast overgrown city. Whilst page 2 so engaged I was very deeply impressed with the fearful evils produced by the overcrowding of great cities. Having personally investigated the homes of the very poor, and the haunts of sin and misery, I know, from actual observation, what crowding a vast number of human beings into a small space means, and I say that the man who has this knowledge, and at the same time believes he has found a remedy for the evil, would be worse than a fiend if he allowed himself to rest till he had seen that remedy tried. I devoted a good deal of earnest thought to the subject while in England, but failed to get even a glimmering of an idea of how to deal with this tremendous evil.

In 1869 I returned to Auckland, and the subject passed out of my mind till the lecture given in this city in 1882 by the Rev. Joseph Cook of Boston revived it. Towards the end of that year circumstances led me to study the railway transit system of the colony.

I had not been long engaged in this investigation before I saw how intimately the railway transit system and the overcrowding of cities was connected. The first thing that attracted my attention was the fact that differential rates are always given in favour of the great cities and great producers, but never in favour of poor districts and small producers. It was longer before I saw the still greater evils of the mileage system.

It is interesting to me to note, that both England and America as nations, have now realised the evils of differential rating, but neither nation as yet appears to have the least idea of the greater evil of mileage rating; nor, indeed, do those nations who have adopted the "Zone" system.

I found it much easier to detect faults than to propound a remedy for them, but when I did find it, I resolved not to let the matter drop. Greatly mistrusting my own ability to deal with so vast a subject, I sought the assistance of some of our leading men, but as no one would join me, I resolved to enter on the contest alone. Its history is public property.

As to working in the interests of the large landed proprietors, such a thought has never crossed my mind; on the contrary, I know—I do not say I think,—I know that the introduction of my system will do more to break up the large estates than anything else that has yet been done. The present system, as also the "zone" systems of Hungary and Austria mean concentration, my system means distribution, and distribution means subdivision of land as well as of everything else.

Many a time have I been tempted to give up the contest, but the knowledge that carrying it to a successful issue will bring immense relief to the struggling masses of mankind that are pent up in the great cities of the world, has been the thought that has kept me at my task. My great idea has been to bring about such a state of things, that the toilers of the world need not drag out a miserable, unhealthy existence in garrets and cellars, but may live on hind in health and happiness. This is, I think, an idea worth fighting for.

No one can be more conscious than I am of many failings and shortcomings in dealing with this great question. I am aware that I have not always exercised the patience and discretion that I ought to have done, and know that many of my fellow colonists do not approve of my method and manner, and the fierceness of my attack; still I have honestly striven to do my best.

The fact that the value is fast going out of real estate, and more particularly of country lands, all the world over, gives cause for serious alarm. It is a wonder that more attention has not been drawn to the subject.

Land is not only the source of all wealth, but it is also the basis of all security for the possession of a competency. Many of us have invested not only in mortgages but also large sums in life insurance policies. Does not the value of these policies rest on the value of securities held over real estate by the various companies? If the present movement goes on much longer, no life policy will be worth the paper it is written on, nor will the savings bank or Public Trust securities be of any value.

What is wanted is not to tax the value out of land, but to make the lands of the world so accessible, that all who want land can obtain it at a fair not an inflated value, and thus enable land to bear its fair share of the burden of taxation, page 3 which it is fast losing its ability to do, and as a natural consequence an ever increasing burden is being thrown on the industries of the world. This can only he done by an equalisation of transit charges, and that again by a stage system of railway administration. After that must come an equalisation of ship transit charges. In short, the world must be drawn more closely together.

Coincident with the decreasing value of land comes this other startling fact, that the value is also leaving the next largest investment in the world—the railways of the world. Is there no connection between the two things?

If we are true men we shall rouse ourselves and pay strict attention to this matter. Our very existencedepends upon it, and I say that the first step towards setting things right in this colony, is to get rid of the incubus of Messrs. Maxwell and Hannay.

All thoughtful men must have noticed the social and political unrest that pervades the world. What has been the chief cause of this? Is not the main cause poverty, or what is often worse, the dread of poverty among great masses of the people?

Is it not want, misery, social degradation, that has led to the creation of the various societies of Anarchists, Dynamiters, Nihilists, Clan-na-Gaels, Socialists, Fenians, etc., etc.; and where is the birthplace, the home of these societies? Is it in the villages and broad fields of the country, or is it not rather in the slums of our overgrown cities?

The true work of the statesman then is to devise means by which the masses may live in greater freedom and comfort in suburban and country districts.

When we reflect that four thousand three hundred millions of pounds (£4,300,000,000) have been spent in constructing the railways of the world, and that this vast sum, this tremendous engine is at work not for the public good, but for the mere purpose of putting money in the pockets of a few capitalists, I say, when we remember this tremendous fact, is it any wonder that we have social misery, political I unrest?

As a matter of fact the great highways of the world have been handed bodily over to certain capitalists to deal with as they please, and we need not wonder that they have availed themselves of their opportunities, and imposed the most crushing disabilities on every kind of industry. No thought of the people, no thought of the future ever comes in. The sole consideration is how much money can be squeezed out of the users of these highways.

It may be said that my remarks do not apply to our railways, that they be-long to the people. It is quite true that the people have paid—paid very dearly for them; but how can they be said to belong to the people when they have never been used as though they were public property, and we have now given them away in fee simple to three men who are not only responsible to nobody, but who had previously proved themselves incapable of decently managing them. Was there ever such an act of folly committed by any people?

Here we have all the disadvantage of Government ownership combined with the very worst form of private ownership.

When railways belong to private companies their directors are responsible to the shareholders, but our directors are not responsible to anybody, and they have already given us convincing proof that all they care for is their own salaries and positions.

The Goods Tariff.

The re-arrangement of the goods tariff will be a work of vast importance, and the future of this country will largely depend on the skill, and the fairness and impartiality with which it is dealt with. If Messrs. Maxwell and Hannay are allowed to control this important matter very many people and great public interests will suffer severely.

The evidence these gentlemen gave before the Parliamentary Committee of 1886, and reproduced in my Paper, No. 8, conclusively proves that they could not correctly calculate the simple averages of the passenger traffic, neither with regard to their own system nor mine. If then they made such a fearful mess of this comparatively easy task, what will they do with the much more complicated and important question of the goods tariff.

It appears to me that there is nothing for us to do but to repeal the disastrous Act of 1887 with the least possible delay, page 4 and let the railways revert back to the Crown and be managed under the control of a responsible Minister.

What, then, are we to do with the Commissioners? As to Messrs. Maxwell and Hannay, the colony has surely had enough of them. To pay the cash value of their salaries, deducting therefrom the amount of their compensation as civil servants and the chances of their lives, would mean a very small thing. It would pay the colony to give ten times as much to get rid of them. Mr. McKerrow, who is a good departmental officer, and must have acquired a great deal of routine knowledge of the department, might probably be retained with advantage.

We ought, then, at once to introduce a stage system. If a better one can be found than the one I propose, by all means let us have it; if not, let the system that has already been investigated have a fair trial.

There are now before the world three stage systems.

The Hungarian System.

We have now information in respect to this system direct from the Hungarian Minister. It is described as comprising two groups of "zones," one of two zones for "suburban traffic," and one of 14 zones for "distant traffic."

The letter to the Railway Reform League states that, "The arrangement of the stations in zones according to their different relations is shown in tables which constitute the second part of the tariff; this would be too voluminous to send you" From this it will be seen that the arrangement is a somewhat complicated one.

It is somewhat difficult to understand the arrangement of the suburban zones, but I take it that they start from any large centre and cover at least 15 miles and in some instances greatly more. The charge for the first suburban zone is 6d. first-class, 3d. second-class, and 2d. third, and for the whole 15 miles 8d. first, 4½d. second, and 3d. third.

Then follow 10 zones of about 9 miles each with charges of 10d., 8d., and 5d., then two zones of 15 miles each at the same fares, and finally any distance outside these 13 zones also at the same price.

It will be seen that this arrangement gives great advantages to the large centres. There are also many other plans of giving advantages to the great cities. Old railway traditions are still clung to. The effect will be to still further concentrate population and wealth.

Hungary has also adopted the plan of selling railway tickets wherever postage stamps are sold. It is also proposed to relieve the Government of their responsibility as carriers; I have proposed to do both these things. The English papers state that for the eight months it had been in force, this system has shown good results.

The Austrian System.

This system differs from the Hungarian. It comprises twenty six (26) zones of 50 kiloms., but, in the interests of the traffic near the capital the first 100 kiloms. were divided into 5 zones of 10, two of 15, and one of 20 kiloms."

The first zones are a small fraction over six miles each, with fares of 2d., 4d., and 6d. for third, second, and first class respectively. The next two zones are of 9 miles each, and the next 12 miles, the remaining 18 zones are 31? miles each. The fares in all the zones are at the same rate per mile, and are the same for the whole or any portion of a zone

The effect of this arrangement, it appears to me, will be very disastrous as regards country interests. For; instance, round the capital a man can travel 6 miles for 2d., 12 miles for 4d., or 18 miles for 6d.; but if he is 62 miles away from the capital, and requires to travel two miles only, he will have to pay 10d. It is true he can travel .31 miles for the same price, but if he makes ever so short a journey on a stage he must pay the full fare. It seems to me that the Austrian system will fail; that is, if I understand . it aright.

Both the Hungarians and Austrians have abolished season tickets. I hold this to be a serious mistake.

The New Zealand System.

This system provides for four stages of seven miles each on every line starting from a town of 6,000 or more souls, two from a town of 4,000 souls, and one from towns of 2,000, with intervening, stages of any length up to fifty miles.

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Passenger fares are fixed at 6d. first class and 4d. second class for the whole or any portion of a stage, no matter what its length may be. In time these fares will be reduced to half the amount.

This system is the exact reverse of all existing systems, including the Hungarian and the Austrian, which all greatly favour the thickly populated districts and great cities; my system greatly favours the thinly populated districts and the small towns.

Under all existing systems the protection given to the crowded districts is continuous and ever increasing. Under my system the protection given to weak country districts and small towns is only temporary, to enable them to acquire population and strength, and as they do this they will have to pay their full share of transit charges, and the great centres will be proportionately relieved. Ultimately all fares and rates will merely be charged to and from certain centres of population, and the burden of transit charges will be equally distributed. (See Pamphlet 3, pages 5 and 7.)

Under such a system as this, it is impossible that 6 per cent, of the users of railways could be, as they are now, compelled to pay 37 per cent, of the transit; charges of the country.

The great distinctive feature of the New Zealand system is this: that under it all fares and rates are based on the location of population, and consequently that each district will help to bear the burden of transit charges in proportion to its ability to stand the strain.

Another distinguishing feature is its great simplicity; any intelligent boy of ten years' old could understand it.

I do not propose to do away with season tickets, but would abolish the present system and substitute a new one that I believe will give better financial results, and much greater facilities to the public.

I propose to manipulate goods traffic on the same system as passenger traffic, and am prepared to work out a new goods tariff whenever am placed in a position to command the necessary information.


Wilsons and Horton, Printers, Queen and Wyndham Streets, Auckland.

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