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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

The Universal Fare

The Universal Fare.

Many people have thought that the only remedy for the evils of the present system of railway administration is either to make transit by railways absolutely free, or to make one universal charge—that is to say, the same price, no matter what the distance travelled over. My study of the subject leads me to conclude that neither proposal is a sound one. Free railway transit would be a great injustice to millions of people, unless the Government were prepared to provide also free transit on all the common roads of the country, and on all the streets of the cities. This idea could not be seriously entertained.

As regards the universal fare, four difficulties present them-selves:
1.If anyone could have themselves, their goods and belongings, transported any distance for the same price, seeing that the element of time must always be against those most distant from the market, they would naturally gravitate towards the large centres, and the effect on country towns and villages would be even more disastrous than the present system. This would be especially the case in countries like this (New Zealand) where our inland towns are few and small. What is wanted is a system of temporary protection to the thinly populated districts (what I mean by this will be more particularly described when I deal with the stage system in sparsely populated countries), so as to attract and locate population there, and then a system of from point to point of population as previously described.
2.It would inflict a ruinous injustice on all users of railways for short distances, because the average fare or rate would have to be fixed at a price they could not pay. For instance, the average passenger fare in the United Kingdom is 7¾d., and the average goods rate 5s. 4d. per ton. In New Zealand the average passenger fare is is. 11½d. per trip, and the goods rate, including delivery charge. 7s. 4d. per ton. Now, it is manifest that if these charges were taken down to one-half, or even one-third, that a vast number of people could not pay them.
3.It would certainly lead to a very large loss of revenue, as, for the reasons stated above, all short distance traffic would be practically killed. As this traffic forms fully seventy per cent, of the whole, the loss of revenue would be simply ruinous.
4.It would have a most disturbing and injurious effect on land values. Owing to the fact that town residents would be page 34 able to make use of railways to a limited extent only, I should, after a time, expect a serious reduction in city real estate values, while country lands not served by railways would become practically valueless, and this again would tell very injuriously on the general revenue and prosperity.

What the universal fare would mean would be a present gain to those country districts where railways exist, but as this would be at the expense of the cities and districts not served by railways, the gain could only be a temporary one. The present system is very unfair to the country, and has well nigh ruined it. The cities are now feeling the effects of the wrong done to the country, but we must not rush into the other extreme, or we shall produce equally disastrous results.

The idea of one universal charge is very attractive, and at first sight appears fair, but it will not bear closely looking into, and for the reasons stated I believe it ought to be carefully guarded against. By working by stages, the length of these stages being determined by the density of population they pass through, and from time to time—as circumstances will allow—removing these stages, we should ultimately arrive practically at the same result without having the same disturbing influences to contend with. Under existing circumstances, I believe the universal fare would lead to many and great evils.

It is difficult, indeed impossible, for anyone to foresee what the effect of the sudden adoption of one universal transit charge would lead to. What I should expect would be that a large number of country residents would immediately crowd into and around the great centres, and that as short-distance traffic could undoubtedly be performed more cheaply by other means, the work of the railways would to a large extent be destroyed. There would probably be a temporary, but not a lasting, increase of railway business.