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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Some of its Beauties

Some of its Beauties.

Mr. Commissioner Maxwell says cadets of sixteen years easily interpret this precious document. Will he then say how-he came to pass the following (Gazette 20/5/93, page 749):—Local rates Dunedin and Port Chalmers to Oamaru: 'Ship's goods, classes A.B.C.D., 15s. per ton, minimum quantity 10 tons.' And on page 753—Dunedin and Port Chalmers to Oamaru: 'Goods A.B.C.D., 12s. 6d. per ton, minimum charge is. 4d.' So that on the one page they say they will not take less than 10 tons at 15s., and that they must arrive by ship, and on the other page, for the same class of goods and the same distance, no matter how they arrive, they will take them at 12s. 6d. per ton, and in such small quantities that the charge may be only 1s. 4d. What is the cadet to do? The object of this is to catch any unwary shipper of less than 10 tons, and say to him, 'Oh, yours are ship's goods, and you must pay full rates' the intention being to destroy our coastal trade. The tariff abounds with regulations like these, which are differential rates, against the poor man; Class E., grain, etc., minimum quantity 1½ tons, which means that for conveying 1½ tons of grain 100 miles the charge would be 17s. page 30 5d., but if the man had only ½ ton to send the charge might be 17s. 5d. or 8s. 8d., or if he had a ton and quarter to send he might have to pay either 17s. 5d. or 21s. 9d., I suppose on the principle that Squeers dealt with his milk, 'Serve him right for being so weak.' If he wanted two tons of 'brown coal' he would have to pay either 21s. 8d. or 34s. 10d., while the man who would take not less than four tons would get the whole lot taken for the 21s. 8d., and he could not be charged any more. If the sender was a favoured man, or lived in a favoured district, he would be charged the lower rate, if the reverse, the higher one. Manifestly his wiser plan would be to fill up his weight with stones or earth, and make the railway do all he could for his money.

I could multiply examples, but these will suffice to show the injustice and utter rottenness of the system. I am aware that the department says that where two prices are named the 'intention' is that the lower price shall be charged, but if this is so why is the higher price retained in the tariff?

Many of my English readers will think I am romancing when I tell them that precisely similar charges and regulations exist on nearly the whole of the British railways. Our system is merely a slavish copy of the English system.

A very amusing chapter might be written pointing out the many absurdities in this wonderful document, as, for instance, it provides that scoria ash, boulders, ship's ballast, concrete blocks, etc., must be carried at owner's risk, while the Commissioners meekly take the responsibility of safely carrying bank notes, bonds (English and foreign), and other securities. They, however, make another provision that 'valuable documents' must not only be at the owner's risk, but must also pay double rates, Why at owner's risk? I presume we must take this as evidence that in the opinion of our Railway Commissioners 'bank notes, bonds (English and foreign), and other securities' are not valuable documents, mere dross only. Perhaps they are right, at any rate, just now. Again, if biscuits are properly packed in tins or cases the owner must take the risk, but if they are in bags, so that a shower of rain would ruin them, the Commissioners take the risk.

It is quite clear the whole thing wants improving off the face of the earth. All this needless confusion is made still more complicated by differential rates. This complication does not arise from trade necessities, nor is it in any way made in the interests of the public. It is done to confuse and mislead the public, and to compel them to 'inquire at the station for their rate,' so that the railway owners may extract from them 'what the traffic will bear.' The only people who benefit are the railway owners and the railway rating experts. Let me repeat the words, rating experts. I do not refer to that page 31 wonderful body of men the railway traffic managers. It would be impossible to speak too highly in their praise.