The Zone System of Railway Fares.
An innovation of quite a startling character in connection with railway travelling is (says the ‘Morning Post’ of July 24) to take effect next week on all the Hungarian State railways; and as it will have the effect of completely revolutionising the conditions under which it has hitherto been found practical to convey passenger traffic and make it pay in any other part of the world, the changes to be carried out in Hungary will no doubt attract the attention of the leading railway companies as well as the public generally in this country and abroad. For some time past it has been known that M. Baross, the Hungarian Minister of Commerce and Communications, has had under consideration the subject of the State railways with an eye to a thorough reform of the passenger rates and the existing scale of charges, the object, of course, being to render the lines of greater utility to the populace. The resulthas now been made public j and from August 1 the old system of charging for a railway journey according to the distance travelled is to be altogether abolished, and prices will be regulated according to “zones,” The entire kingdom traversed by the State lines has been divided into such zones, fourteen in number, and the cost of a railway ticket from a station within any one of these to a point in any other will be calculated accords ing to the number of zones through which the traveller passes, irrespective entirely of the distance. In this way every station in the same zone will be placed on an equality as regards the charges for railway conveyance, though one may be twenty-five qnd thirty miles from the other. The reduction made in consequence of this radical reform of the system of fares is something extraordinary. As an example Sir A. Nicholson, Her Majesty’s Consul-General at BudaPesth, points out in a despatch to the Foreign Office that the price of a first-class ticket from Pesth to Kronstadt, which is at present L 3 17s fid, will, under the now system, be only 10s, or about one-fifth of what it was, speaking roughly. Nor is this the only reform to bo carried out. To encourage local traffic, passengers will be allowed to travel from one station to the next—irrespective of distance—for the absurd sum of 5d first class, 2Jd second class, and 2d third class, while from any one station to the second following station the third-class passengers will only pay $d more—no matter what the distance may be—the second-class travellers lg-d, and first-class 3d more. The reasons that have moved the Hungarian Government to sanction such a radical change in the system of railway rates are simple enough. Charges moderate in themselves are found to be too high in proportion to the means of the great bulk of the Hungarian populace, which accordingly cannot afford to avail itself of the facilities for travelling offered by the State railway lines. Thus, it has been ascertained, by a comparison of figures bearing on the question, that while in Austria each inhabitant makes two railway journeys a year, in Germany five, and in England over fifteen, the average in Hungary is less than one journey. It is hoped that the great reduction now to be made in the fares, and the new system of estimating the cost of a ticket by zones, will lead to an extended patronage of the railways. As may be imagined, the new system of charging for the conveyance cf passengers which is to come into operation on the several Hungarian State railways has provoked a good deal of comment and criticism on the Continent, and many doubts are expressed, even in Hungary, as to the chances of its proving successful. But it is obviously impossible to foresee what the result of an experiment of this kind will bo. In any case, it is undoubtedly what Sir A. Nicholson terms it, a courageous attempt to confer a great boon on the general travelling public of Hungary and develop railway traffic there. And opart from its effects in that country, it constitutes an entirely new in railway enterprise, marking an innovation that may yet have important and far-reach-ing consequences. Jf it is found to answer it will almost of a certainty be adopted also in Germany, where proposals for the establishment of railway zones, and a system of uniform rates based upon them, have long been urged by railway reformeis. And it is hardly likely that anything of this nature will prove successful abroad without suggesting modifications of a similar character to the enterprising managers of some of the great trunk lines here and in the United States. After all, our railways are only the growth of the last fifty years ; they are still in a tentative stage, so far as the conditions that tend to the most profitable working of the lines are concerned. Railway travelling has by no means attained its maximum development either here or in America, and passenger traffic is capable of enormous development yet. We make about fifteen journeys a head every year in Great Bri-
tain, but this is not much, and it might be fifty instead of fifteen, to the great benefit of the travelling and trading public and to the greater profit of the railway companies. It in quite conceivable that a simplified system of charging for tickets, resulting in a reduction of fares ami greater facilities for travelling, would load to an expansion of passenger trallic only to be compared to the increase of the number of letters per head that followed the introduction of the penny post in this country and the abrogation of our old and well - nigh forgotten postal system. No one will pretend that the existing method of calcuting fares by distance is altogether the best that could be conceived in the of either the public or the railway companies. It is fair all round, and reasonable enough, and it enables the companies to adjust, as it were, the terms of their contract in an equitable manner according to the special needs of each customer. But, after all, it has no real reference to the requirements of the travelling public, or the special wants of the inhabitants of our great industrial centres, any more than the coat per mile of running a train or the charges of maintenance. The case of the penny post is often urged by extreme advocates of railway reform, who plead for some sort of a system of uniform fares. It is quite possible the analogy is not altogether good, and that the two things are not on all fours, for what proved true in the case of the conveyance of letters in large numbers may not prove equally true when it comes to the question of carrying passengers. And our railway companies can hardly venture upon rash and ruinous experiments, but must move slowly and cautiously. Still, it is fair to assume that if the managers could devise a system of grouping districts, or something in the nature of the zone established by the Hungarian Government, with a set of uniform fares baaed upon it, at once fair to the companies and liberal to the public, an increase of passenger traffic might be looked for more than sufficient to cover the loss incurred through the lowered rate of the single tickets. In a word, the companies might find it more profitable to run full trains at low fares than to be hauling halfempty carriages mile after mile at a high rate per head. The result of the new departure in Hungary will, however, be instructive, and will be watched with more than ordinary interest.
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The Zone System of Railway Fares., Evening Star, Issue 8025, 30 September 1889
The Zone System of Railway Fares. Evening Star, Issue 8025, 30 September 1889
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