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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76

Small Freeholders

Small Freeholders.

There is no need to say much on this point. Most political economists are agreed that the small freeholders are the backbone of every country where they exist. They create an enormous amount of wealth; they are the real conservators of liberty and the rights of property; but they are a very independent class, and their votes are not easily manipulated, therefore the political demagogue does not desire to increase their numbers.

If the Stage System would lead to increased land settlement, and enable our workers to live on the land, and no one now denies that this would be the case, then this very desirable class must be largely increased, and the political demagogue would soon lose his power. Probably it is because the leaders of the "Great Liberal Party" see this, that now they are in power they are so strongly opposed to the new system, although they have all voted that it ought to be tried.

The great distinctive features of the Stage System are its basis of rating, its extreme simplicity, and its great capacity for financial development.

As already stated, the present basis of rating is asserted to be the special cost of service rendered, and this is calculated at page 30 per mile through which the service runs. Thus it is evident that in a thinly-populated district, where trains must run comparatively empty, both as regards passengers and goods, the revenue per mile must be less than in the thickly-populated districts, and in many instances the whole of it is not sufficient to pay working expenses.

It was by taking advantage of this position that, prior to the inquiry of 1886, heavy differential rates were imposed against all the Auckland, Napier, Taranaki, Wellington, Nelson, Picton, and many of the branch lines in Canterbury and Otago, in fact, against every district in the colony except those served by the Hurunui-Bluff main line. So strongly was the injustice and bad policy of this rating brought out at that inquiry, that soon after the committee rose these differential rates were abolished, and for a time at least all districts were charged the same.

One of the main objects of this system of rating is so to confuse the rates that-no one shall be able to understand them. Railway men claim that they have the right to charge "what the traffic will bear," that is, to take from the user all they can by any means get; but they could not do this if the public knew what they were about, therefore they try by every possible means so to confuse the rates that no one can read them, but will be compelled to "apply at the station for his rate," and so give them the chance to charge what they like, without an opportunity of that charge being called in question. What I say sounds harsh, but I say it in sober, earnest truthfulness, and assert that my statement is correct.

Let me again direct attention to what the leading man among our late Railway Commissioners, Mr. J. P. Maxwell, had to say on this subject, and there is no doubt that he meant what he said:—

In his report for 1884 he says: "The system of rating differentially in this colony is not carried far enough, and the difficulty that stands in the way is the impatience of the public in submitting to different treatment in different cases, and the reluctance to place in the hands of the railway officers the power which would be necessary for carrying out the principle extensively. While retaining publicity by gazetting each rate, were such a principle more widely introduced the public would not be able to do what it now, to some extent, essays to do—rend and interpret the rates generally: but the practice followed elsewhere would be necessary: the customer would appeal to the station each time he required a rate quoted: and, whether the railways were managed by a Minister or a Board, more power and freedom in respect to rating would have to be placed in the officers' hands."

This is pretty straight, and ought to convince anybody that there is no intention of dealing honestly with the public.

page 31

Under the Stage System, all this complication and mystery, all these differential and mileage rates, would be swept away at one stroke, and a system substituted that is so simple in its working that any ordinary child of 14 or 15 years could state the fare or the rate for any distance, and no official would have the power to alter this charge.

The Stage System basis of rating, instead of being special cost of service and the mile, is average cost of service and the density of the population through which the service runs. This is effected by making the length of the stages in proportion to the population located within their length, as described on page . . As pointed out, the effect will be that in districts like those around Frankton, every settler within a radius of 50 miles will be treated exactly alike as regards transit charges, and every other district in accordance with the density of its population will be treated in the same manner.

As to simplicity, that is fully dealt with on pages 13 to 21.

The same remark applies to finance, which is dealt with pretty fully on pages 21 to 25.

I may, however, add that a system that would constantly increase the population of the country districts, towns, and villages, would also increase the railway revenue, for there must be an ever-increasing traffic between these and the port towns.

As bearing on this part of the subject, I may point out one great difference between our stage and the Hungarian zone systems. In Hungary what is called the first zone is from any station to the next accounting station, or to the flag station nearest the second station. The second zone is from any station to the second station, or to the flag station nearest the third station. It will be seen that this system greatly discourages the opening of new stations, for even new station erected would have the effect of shortening the distance that could be travelled for a given sum, therefore the users of the railways will be opposed to new stations, and consequently the railway revenue is not likely to be increased, nor the prosperity of the districts, nor the comfort and accommodation of passengers improved by any addition to their number.

This is not the case with the Stage System—under it the more stations the better. No matter how many are added, the length of the stage or zone remains the same. Take the stage from Pukekohe to Frankton as an example. On it there are now 15 stations, so that although the through fare is only 6d. or 4d., yet it is possible for each seat in a carnage to earn 7s. 6d. or 5s.; but suppose six new stations were added, the length of the stage would remain precisely the same, but each seat could then earn 10s. 6d. or 7s., while at the same time the public convenience would be greatly increased. I should expect very much better financial and social results from the Stage than from the Zone System.