ONE-SIXTH OF A PENNY PER PASSENGER.
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Why Such a Contribution by a Bus Undertaking Would Meet the Financial Requirements of a Change Over from a Tramway System.
By EDWARD S. SHRAPNELL-SMITH, C.B.E.,
THE editor, I observe—arising from my participation (at the urgent request of local motorbus owners) in the proceedings concerning the Belfast Corporation's application for sanction of by-laws to control motorbuses under Northern Ireland's legislative enactments—has twice devoted space to the grounds of my belief in the financial feasibility of replacing sections or whole systems of electric tramway undertakings. I understand, incidentally, that a new set Of by-laws will be drafted for Belfast.
It is most appositely asked if the one-sixth of a penny per passenger (or, as an alternative basis, per cent. of the traffic revenue) can be borne by the travelling public for the purposes in view. It is also sought to explore, if my premise is sound— that 0.167d, per passenger carried is enough to make good the actual and contingent losses to ratepayers, who may decide upon such a change over, treating Belfast as a test case.
The Belfast Position.
Whilst I do not claim the Belfast position as one which represents every case, it is certainly not untypical. And what do we find there? As to fares, taking the official accounts and returns for the year ended March 31st last, the average receipt per passenger by tramcar was 1.30d. That by the Corporation's own motorbuses was 1.40d. As to costs, the total expenditure per passenger by tramcar was 1.279d. That by the Corporation's own motorbuses was 1.275d. It has to be noted, however, that the average seating capacity of the Corporation's tramcars is 62, whilst that of the motorbuses is only 32. There is no reason why Belfast should not have modern double-deck 52-seater motorbuses with covered tops: the total working cost for these under Belfast conditions should in no circumstances exceed 14d. per mile and, on making allowance for that high inclusive expenditure, the all-in cost per passenger seat per mile comes out at only 0.269d. This is cheaper than for the Belfast trams, and must be so. The tramway accounts disclose 0290d. as the cost per passenger seat per mile by tramcar.
The tramway undertaking in Belfast consists of approximately 102 miles of single track, 341 tramcars and 8 motorbuses. Two of the latter vehicles were only put into service after the close of the last financial year. The Belfast tramway system serves a population of some 415,000 persons, and the Tramways Committee has failed to act upon the recommendations of its late tramways manager, made in 1924-25, to go in extensively for motorbus rolling stock. That is largely why, in response to the outstanding public demand thus previously ignored by the Corporation and now fully proven (thanks to the enterprise of private owners), the circumstances which gave rise to the recent controversy became operative.
Intra-urban "Pirating" by Long-distance Buses.
Another reason for the controversy Is found in the fact that a motorbus licence in Northern Ireland allows a vehicle to ply for hire anywhere, 1328 inclusive of the areas at one time and otherwise under the jurisdiction and control of municipal councils, which difficulty it is now sought to remedy by means of recourse to by-laws. Some 140 motorbuses have invaded Belfast, these being run at the sweet and varied wills of their numerous owners, in direct competition with the trams and almost without any route control. Vehicles on long-distance work, with one inward and outward run daily, spend hours throughout the day, with paper slips on their windows, pirating the services of owners who regularly keep upon city routes. It is obvious that something must be done. The opposed by-laws were not, however, viewed—the proper remedy. They ignored public convenience and trade requirements.
Au important section of the Press in Northern Ireland has voiced an outcry to "scrap the trams." That course, naturally, can in no event be followed in a hurry, even should it be considered desirable and thereupon be accepted by the municipality as a programme to be submitted to the electors. I have never favoured any panic action in regard to tramcars at Belfast or elsewhere, and the position of Belfast is somewhat complicated by reason of the very heavy recent expenditure on track renewal. The relayings and repavings approximate 50 per cent, of the total mileage.
Value of Belfast's Tramways.
The capital account of the Belfast Corporation tramways, after allowing for Sinking fund, redemption and other existing provision to wipe out part of a total expenditure to date of £2,273,000, stands at a net balance of £765,458. This is the value in the books of the Corporation (" Total amount outstanding, less total amount of sinking fund, etc."), as sanctioned by the Finance Committee of the City Council, with the approval of the chief auditor to the Northern Ireland Government. It is folly to contend that this valuation should be written up. Any such proposal ignores the very present risk of having to make provision for obsolescence. Heed must be paid to the all-conquering advance of the motorbus, with its challenge to the tramcar, by reason of the combined effect upon costs and performance of giant pneumatic tyres, covered doubledeckers, rigid-frame six-wheelers, and the obvious trend of public choice.
Belfast, of course, receives very considerable sums in respect of motorbuses which operate on its streets, and it should soon receive much more. There is the annual licence duty of £64 per vehicle for a 32-seater (V a seat), plus 12 a vehicle for the provisional licence, and on top of this the average petrol tax is about £100 a year. Very considerable grants are made to the city directly from the proceeds of the vehicle licence duties, whilst the charges falling upon the ratepayers of Belfast in respect of education and other public services are also directly relieved by grants from the Northern Ireland Government out of its general exchequer, which is considerably helped to this end by the proceeds of the petrol tax. It is idle to argue without regard to these important factors Whilst I am not called upon at the moment to prepare a replacement scheme for Belfast, I direct
attention to some of the Corporation's own figures which bear on the matter:—
Beyond this, there remains to be ascertained the annual charge over a term of years to wipe out the debt. Here one has the certified outstanding debt of 4765,458. To this must be added an estimated £88,322 in respect of the redemption price of certain loans, making £804,780 to be provided. On good 'security, this should readily be obtained at not more than 5 per cent, interest, representing an
annual interest payment of £40,234, to which must be added for a redemption fund at 4i per cent. to pay off in 15 years, £38,721. We thus have, say, £42,000, plus £79,000, to provide, for a term of 15 years, or some £121,000 a year in all. One-sixth of a penny on Belfast's present tram passengers represents £72,407. With the present bus passengers added, and with allowance for early development of the travel habit if and when omnibuses are given fair and full scope, the passengers carried cannot fail to exceed 200,000,000 a year, and so render available not less than 1140,000 a year, without addition to the 1927-28 fare basis.
When the tramway debt is extinguished, fares can be reduced, or part of the one-sixth of a penny applied for other civic purposes.
There are, also, large sums in reduction to be realized and brought in from tramway depots and other properties charged now to tramways capital, the sale of rails sawn to length and sold as pit props, the sale of copper cables and other copper stores, of land, of the power station, and other assets. The full asset value of the paving, in any event, belongs to the city of Belfast. It remains.
Other cities may, or may not, compare with Bel fast in all respects. As to London, which appears to want £850,000 a year to wipe out its traini.vays debt, only one-twelfth of a penny per passenger is at the moment included in L.C.C. fares in respect of debt redemption. For London, if the day does cotes when motorbuses are allowed to do all the public street-passenger-service duties, I adhere tomy earlier recommendation of 6 per cent, on the turnover. It is feasible, if the motorbus comes to be recognized as the preferable vehicle, to the exclusion of the tramcar, but in London, as matters are developing, this cannot happen for 10 or more years,
Electric Tramcars on the Defensive.
Not only in Belfast, but elsewhere does evidence accumulate in respect of the current situation, as between electric tramcars and petrol-driven buses, that the electric vehicle is on the defensive. Necessity has accounted one by one for the reluctant jettisoning of old, vaunted points of vantage, to which protagonists of the electric tramcar have vainly sought to hold. A little more than 22 years ago, when I debated "Electric Trams v. Motor Omnibuses" at the R.A.C. with Sir Edward Manville, one of his chief doubts about the motorbus was the cost of rubber tyres. This, in 1906, averaged 4d. per bus-mile, but now, with this head of working expenditure down to 0.4d, for solid tyres and to less than 0.8d. for giant pneumatics, a serious one-time advantage counts for nothing. By slow degrees the advantage of the metal wheel on the metal track has proved to be illusory ; tramcar supporters realize that flexibility counts for much —on the lines of route served during week-days, and along other lines of route, to which access is impossible with railEouncl vehicles, on Sundays and holidays. The public detests the eight broken joint.s in the paving of a two-track tramway street, and is beginning to appreciate the burden of higher repair cost per superficial yard which results.
Carrying capacity, even if one compares the vehicles at rest, has little, if anything, left in favour of the tram, but one must consider traffic flow and not capacity at the standstill. Testimony from Oldham to the ability of the double-deck motorbus
to "lift the crowd" is amongst the most recent. The modern bus is good at peak-load work and can keep up the seats per hour where tramcars fail after one hour (or less). Tramcars are no longer unique in respect of rush-hour performance.
Obstructiveness and danger are not elements that should aid the tramcar. Tramcar streets in London are (on undeniable official statistics) at least twice as dangerous as non-tramcar streets. The obstructiveness of the tramcar is common knowledge to every user of the highway, cyclists included. Fatalities to cyclists in London tramcar streets are very much higher than in its non-tramway streets, and, as tramcars, by reason of their obstructiveness, are excluded from central London (say, six miles east to west, and an average of one mile north to south), this "relativity "Is certainly not due to any absence of dense traffic in'thenon-tramway streets.
Finance, and finance alone, remains a possible difficulty. One should add polities as well, for finance and politics and politics and finance touch one another and transport at practically every point.
The One-sixth of a Penny is Already Charged.
One has only to take the Belfast accounts to find that the one-sixth of a penny per passenger which I have in mind already falls upon those who use the tramcars there. This is due to the fact that, as in all municipal tramcar undertakings, the charges to be borne must include dividends on the stock (interest on loans), provision for depreciation, and annual contributions for the redemption of capital. An ordinary joint stock company must cover the first two of these items, but the capital account has not to be redeemed, and can remain at any fixed cr necessary sum indefinitely. This is the distinguishing feature that may enable company finance to come to the rescue.
The actual redemption provision in Belfast for the year ended March 31st last was £72,407 2s. 2d., after providing £62,264 Os. 2d. for dividends on stock (interest on loans), and £25,000 for tramways depreciation fund. As the passengers carried therl during the last financial year were 104,274,197 in number, it will be seen that the redemption contribution was precisely 0.167d. per passenger. The one-sixth of a penny that I want is paid already. It must, in the scheme of tramway finance, so continue to be paid for many years to come. My plan is to provide that 0.167d. some other way, subject to two conditions.
The two conditions to be observed are :—(a) That the ratepayers shall not suffer ; (b) that the travel-ling public shall not pay more than by tramcar. It goes without saying that I postulate the ability of the modern bus to furnish all the conveniences and facilities for travel that a tramcar can—and more! I also ask that the tramcar shall not be allowed enormously to overload, the while the bus is forbidden to do so. These terms granted, my contention is that company operation can give the service and set aside the one-sixth of a penny per passenger.
If on a schedule of tramway fares based upon tramway costs of 0290d. per seat-mile the charges levied on the passengers cover (as they do in Belfast) the one-sixth of a penny under reference, it is obvious that there is no valid reason for a higher schedule of fares with a motorbus system having corresponding total costs of 0.269d. per seat-mile. Anybody who is acquainted with the ascertained all-in costs for a 52-seater will agree with me that out of an admitted 14d, per vehicle-mile for such total costs there is amply covered and included is much as 1.33d. per mile to provide the needful maximum of 0.167d. per passenger carried as a contribution to "Tramways capital extinction account" (or the equivalent), quite apart from the fact that the revenue, granted a controlled and unified combination of city, suburban and country running, should, on the average, reach 17.75d. per bus-mile.
Give the Bus Fair Play.
Where, yet, has a British municipality given the motorbus fair play? In London, possibly, as a group, where L.C.C. tramcars and L.G.O.e. motorbuses run side by side at competitiee fares, and, possibly, alSo in Brighton. I am concerned in the first place with physical fair play—access to the best routes on equal terms. The answer, of almoA universal application, really is "nowhere." The motorbus is now knocking insistently at the municipal door. The public are in it, and behind it,
Recognition of facts by municipal authorities is hound to come, and that almost at once. The related facts are these: If the modern bus be given its chance the electric tramcar must disappear by the thousand! Why keep the bus out? Gni bone?
Then there remains the problem of who shall do it, and how. If some municipalities wish to do it themselves they will, without doubt, so arrange. Others may prefer to grant• conditional franchises. Deliberate exclusion of the motorbus from central areas and city services will have to end as a policy. That is my main and short point. Keighley, Greenock, Kilmarnock, Oxford, the Potteries, Sunderland, Taunton, Worcester and Wrexham have already said " good-bye " to all or part of their electric tramcars. Replacements, where these examples will be followed, is now more than due to run up the scale of area and population.