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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Invisible Turnpikes

Invisible Turnpikes.

Let us see how it would work. Suppose the British Government were to say, we want money, and we will make it out of the common roads. We will lease them to a company, and give power to place a turnpike at every mile along them, but in consideration of the fact that the users will provide their own means of locomotion we will only allow half the charge to be made that is made on the railways. What would be the effect?

Suppose, again, a professional or commercial man to have his office in a city, and his residence ten miles from it, would he, could he, pass ten turnpikes coming and going—twenty turnpikes every day; What would be the effect on the value of the land ten miles out; what twenty, forty, one hundred miles away! Now, absurd as this proposition may seem, it is exactly what we have on the railways of the world. These turn pikes are indeed invisible, but they are there all the same, and the "tolls" are rigidly exacted for every mile passed over, the only difference being that they are all collected in one sum at one end or other of the journey, but paid to the uttermost farthing they must be.

It is very easy to see what a pernicious influence a turnpike at every mile on a common road would have on all our social conditions, but it seems almost impossible to make the public see that mileage rating on a railway has precisely the same effect. The idea that the first duty of a railway is to pay dividends, and that it must be worked on what are called, or miscalled, "commercial principles," seems to be ground into our very bones and marrow.

It is this turnpike system that has absorbed all the small users of land, and rendered it when situated more than twenty or thirty miles from a large city available for grazing purposes only or for grain growing in large areas where machinery can be used. The husbandman is completely shut out.

Great as the evil of mileage rating is, that is not all, it is aggravated by differential rating. It is true that since the passing of the Inter-State Commerce Bill of America, and the page 19 last Railways and Canals Traffic Act of Great Britain, the worst features of this vile system have been done away with in those countries, but so long as mileage rating exists, so long must differential rating in some form or other be tolerated, but as these rates are always given in favour of the great cities, or in favour of "great users," they largely aggravate the evil. The effect of this mileage and differential rating must be, and undoubtedly has been, to concentrate population in the cities. They render it quite impossible for the mass of workers to live on the land.