THOSE ELECTRIC TRAMWAYS.
Observer, Volume XVI, Issue 951, 20 March 1897, Page 2
THOSE ELECTRIC TRAMWAYS.
More Concessions Wanted.
Councilor Stichbuky waß not far aßtray the other night when he said the Auckland City Council waß simply being played with by the people who have been talking electric tramways to us for the laßt year and more. The 80-called syndicate haß come back to the Council now for still greater concessions. Last time, it wanted a lease over the city for a generation-and-a-half to come. Now, it wants the city itself in return for the tramwayß which the syndicate may or may not construct, at it a pleasure. And the odd part of the affair is that the more outrageous the demands of the syndicate become the more disposed some of the councillors appear to be to concede them. "
James Stewart originally asked for a monoply of the tramway rights for twentyone years, which was granted to him, but without any condition binding him to construct the tramways. He next demanded a monopoly for thirty years. Twenty-one yeara waß too short a period for James's capitalistic friends. And James got the thirty years, the condition being that he should deposit £1,000 as a guarantee of bona fides. Now, he comes back for more concessions, and though the £I,OOC deposit has never been paid, he asks for a forty yeatß' monopoly, with the right to a ten years' extension at the end of that period. The proposal is cool, but, singularly enough, some of the councillors are quite willing to submit to it. Somehow it seems they would hand over the town to Jameß Stewart if he asked for it.
Now, it would have been jnst as well for the syndicate to admit what the Observes. maintained twelve months ago, viz., that it is not an electrical syndicate at all, but simply a company floating syndicate. Also, that it has made two attempts to float a company to construct these electric trams, and has failed on both occasions. Further, that it is willing to try again, if the Council will make the terms so tempting that the foreign capitalist cannot refuse them. Mr Hnnt tacitly admits all this in his letter to the Council, wherein he draws attention to the state of the Home market, and the almost utter impossibility of raising capital for such an enterprise as the conversion of our tramway system.
The Star also admits it in the course of a leading article on the subject, and be it remembered that the Star has been a special pleader for Stewart, Hunt and party in their manoeuvres,: to get an .option over the Auckland tramways at no cost to themselves. The Star candidly Bays : 'We have no doubt that everything which it was possible to do in the time was done to get the Auckland agreement accepted by the electrical syndicates and companies, that are working tramway options all over the
world, but the* financial prospects offered by the Auckland lines were not good enough to justify the letting of a contract under the- agreement, or even the staking of £1,000 deposit upon it, and so the option wbb allowed to lapee. - Although the Council last night agreed to offer an extended option for six months upon the 8 ame terms on payment of £1,000 depoßit, we understand there is no likelihood of thi 8 offer being accepted.'
This then is the position, that Stewart, Hunt and party got a free option over the Auckland tramways, that they hawked this option ronnd the circle of electrical syndicates in London, and that they couldn't dispose of it at a price that would have left them the thumping big profit they expected. This pricks the electrical syndicate bladder and lets the wind out. It shows us in one act that we were dealing with middlemen and not principals throughout the whole negotiation. Also, it Bhows ub that if the Council had gone about the matter in a business-like way, and had invited straightout offers for the conversion of the tramways from electrical syndicates, the electrical system of traction might have been completed by this time and the whole difficulty settled.
Now, however, our position is worse than it was at the beginning. We have allowed Stewart, Hunt and party to hawk our wares until they have become stale and unsaleable. The Star sneeringly remarks that it is open for the Council to consider whether they can get the work undertaken by others on the terms they have laid down. But our fish is stale now. It has been hawked too much. And yet we might do better — much better— than give Stewart and his friend Hunt the right to trade off a monopoly of our tramways for half a century to come.
Why Bhonld the Council ask anyone to do for it what it can do for itßelf ? The Council Bbould acquire these tramway rights, and introduce the electrical or some other traction system, and preserve for posterity a valuable public estate. The corporation makes profit by supplying water. Why should it not also furnish carriage and light ? It has already been pointed out that at three per cent, the annual interest upon the cost of these electric tramways would not greatly exceed the annual expenditure upon our parks. Then why give free options over our tramways to speculators ? Why allow our tramway rights to be hawked round the world for sale by private individuals for their own profit. Why discount the future and put our inhabitants at the mercy of foreign capitalists in the matter of tramway carriage when we can build these tramways ourselves and run them at a profit ?