Glasgow, an Extraordinary City


Glasgow, an Extraordinary City


HERE is a city which knows no boss but itself; which takes the merit system as a matter of course, and without any law enforcing it; a city which keeps its officials in office as long as they will stay or as long as they serve the convictions of their constituents; a city which makes its enterprises pay, and pay big, and watches its finances as prudently as the most conservative banking house; a city in which it is the ambition of every citizen to serve without pay and without return save in the approval of his fellows.

Here, too, is a city which knows no favor, no friendship, no politics, in the choice of its servants. “Wanted. a Town Clerk. The Corporation of Glasgow,” so the newspaper advertisement runs, “invites applications for the office of Town Clerk, which is about to become vacant. The salary will be $10,000 a year.” Here was the most important salaried office within the gift of the council, an office which combines the duties of the city solicitor as well as all the clerical duties of the city, hunting for the man, much as a German city looks for a lord mayor, or an American college or church searches for a president or a minister. The corporation was offering its most influential post to the candidate from all Great Britain best qualified to fill it.

Here, too, is a city in which all citizens are united demanding efficient service and securing it; a city in which the privileged few who own the franchise corporations in America and the unprivileged many who are seeking a job are united with the city rather than against it. For Glasgow offers no franchises whose values run into the millions as a tempting treasure to gamble for. There are no privileges to corrupt the council ; no big financial interests to unite the rich and influential, the press and the bar, the club and the church on one side, and leave democracy untaught and unled blindly to carry on the burdens of self-government. This absence of privileges frees the best talent of the city; it unites its purse with its patriotism. It is this absence of class interest that binds and fuses the whole people into one ambition—an honest city, an economical city, a serviceable city. And they get it, too. The city’s properties are worth $95,000,000, and the annual revenues from reproductive undertakings alone, exceed $15,000,000. All these enterprises are handled with the most scrupulous honesty. None of their earnings sticks in the hands of contractors, aldermen, or clerks on its way to the city treasury. Such a thing as official corruption is almost unknown.

A city with such a citizenship would have gotten good government under any charter. So it was not the form of government that explained it all, although the method of choosing the council makes it very easy to secure good men. Nor is it home rule. For the British city is more dependent upon Parliament than the American city is upon the State legislature. Parliament is most exacting in its control and supervision of the city. Special permission has to be got at Westminster to enter any industry, to build tram lines, to lay water or gas mains, to borrow for any improvement. Parliament determines the amount which must he laid aside in a sinking fund for all undertakings, Its finances and its activities are only determined by the people after Parliament has given its consent, and it took five years of unremitting effort to secure permission to run the telephones.

The absence of the spoils system offers some explanation. Only it is a result, not a cause, for there is no act of Parliament making the merit system compulsory.

The explanation of Glasgow is deeper down than the form of the charter, deeper than the merit system, deeper than the method of electing councilmen by popular nominations--important as these things are. It is deeper than the Scotch character, thrifty, prudent, and careful though it is. I fancied it was the Scotch character, despite conditions in Pittsburg, the most thoroughly Scotch, as it is among the worst of American cities. So I went to Edinburgh, the most beautiful of all British cities, as it is the centre of culture, literature, and traditions of Scotland. Here one should find the Scotchman at his best. I went to the Town Hall. The Lord Provost and the town clerk were away. I wanted to see the council. It would not meet for several weeks. It seldom met oftener than once every three weeks. I looked into its enterprises. “We don’t go in for such things as Glasgow does,” said an official. “We lease our tramways to a private company. The gas and water are in the hands of a parliamentary commission. The members of our council are too busy with their own affairs to devote much time to the city.” Glasgow, I found, was in disfavor. Its thrift and enterprise were undignified—almost vulgar in the minds of the Scotchman of the capital city.

So I returned to Glasgow, to the man on the trams, to the business man in the club, to the tradesman in his shop. For I had come to believe that it is the people that explain the official, that it is they who control the administration. We have seen that fact in Cleveland, where the people have achieved efficient government; we have seen it in Chicago, where, if the people have not good government, they at least have aspiring administration; we have seen it in Philadelphia—which is a people in eruption.

So I went to the people and listened to their talk of Glasgow. But it was not Glasgow, so much as it was the trams, the gas, the telephones, the parks, the bowling greens, the baths, the concerts, the splendid sewage works, and the everlasting rates. It was the Alderman So-and-so, and his speech at the last council. It was Scott Gibson and his condemnation of his fellow-members for voting a few pounds out of the treasury for some dinner or other. It was a longer ride on the trams for a cent. For the man on the street knows about these things. It is this that keeps him alert. He is a good citizen because it is his city; it gives him more for his money than anyone else, and it gives him many things.

So I came to believe that the Glaswegian loves his Glasgow, as his forbears loved their Highlands, because Glasgow loves its people.

“We don’t compare our tramways with Manchester or Liverpool,” one of them said to me. “We have the best system in the United Kingdom.” I think that is true. I have ridden on most of them, and the Glasgow system seems to me the best of them all. The service is as frequent as could be asked, and you get a seat for a fare. You get it on top of the cars if you want a smoke, and the cars go everywhere. They are cleaned and disinfected every night; they are bright as fresh paint can keep them; they have no advertisements on them; they are easy riding and are laid on concrete foundations with grooved rails, which offer no obstruction to other traffic. The conductors are courteous—they have to be. They have 1,000,000 critics, all watching them.

I went again to see Mr. James Dalrymple, the general manager of the street-railway system. He had been recently promoted to the position from that of head bookkeeper. The chief, Mr. James Young, had resigned, and his first and second assistants had been called to other towns. The managers of the British tramways are not often engineers. They are business men whose duties are those of administration. They are not electrical experts. Mr. Dalrymple had just returned from America, where he had gone in response to a request from Mayor Dunne of Chicago. He did not tell me his impressions of America, or express an opinion of our ability to manage municipal enterprises. He did say that he had made a study of the street-railway systems in America and had been entertained by the managers in all of the leading cities. And their opinion of municipal ownership and American politics we all know. But Mr. Dalrymple is a Scotchman. He could not be that and not be convinced that no other people in the world can do what Glasgow has done. That’s Scotch nature. They feel that way even toward England. It’s human nature, too, for haven’t we been sending men to Glasgow for years to learn how that city does things?

For Glasgow has made good on her tramways. A private company ran the system from 1871 to 1894.

But the service was bad, and the treatment of the employees intolerable. The people protested. They tried to regulate the abuses. The company was arrogant; for what could the city do about it? Then Glasgow awoke. A campaign for municipal ownership was started. Two elections were fought over this issue. In 1892 the city decided to take over the operation. This was done two years later.

The private company predicted failure, said the city would go bankrupt. So they refused to sell the the council their cars, because they expected the system to come back to them in a short time.

The first thing the city did was to reduce the hours and increase the wages of the employees. Then free uniforms were added, along with five days’ holiday each year on pay. This increased consideration for the employees now costs the department something like $500,000 a year. The council did not stop here. Hauls were lengthened and fares cut down 33 per cent. To-day one may ride a half-mile for a cent; two and one-third miles for two cents; and three and a half miles for three cents. For fares are arranged on the zone system. You pay for what you get. The main thing is, what does the average rider pay? In 1905 it was 1.89 cents, while the average fare charged per mile was nine-tenths of a cent. Of the 195,000,000 passengers carried, 30 per cent, paid but one cent, 60 per cent, but two cents, and only 10 per cent, of the total number carried paid more than the latter sum. All fares in excess of two cents might be abolished and the earnings would hardly show it.

And the cost to the city for carrying the average passenger (not including interest charges) was just under one cent in 1905. An examination of the earnings and expenses shows that the Glasgow tramways could pay all operating expenses, could maintain the system, could pay local taxes the same as a private company, and still carry passengers at a universal fare of one cent. It could do this, and make money. On the basis of last year’s earnings it would make about $75,000, even if there was no increase in traffic. For the operating expenses and maintenance charge in 1905 were $1,884,150. If the 195,767,519 passengers carried had paid one cent each, the earnings would have been $l,957,675.

But there would be an increase in traffic. Glasgow proved that in 1894 when it reduced its fares by 33 per cent. In three years’ time the number of passengers carried doubled: by 1905 the number had more than thribbled. This was accompanied by a great increase in the mileage of the system, as well as the electro equipment of the lines. But all over England they say it’s cheap fares and good service that make municipal dividends on the tramwavs. The chief complaint in Glasgow is that the tramways make too much money. The man who rides protests mildly that his fare should be still further reduced, or the length of his ride extended.

During the first eleven months after opening the system in 1894 it earned as a horse line, over and above operating expenses, the sum of $208,525. Since that time the growth has been tremendous. The system was opened with 63 miles of track. It now has 147. The gross earnings were $1,066,187 in 1895. In 1905 they were $3,721,854. During the same period the number of passengers carried increased from 57,104,647 to 195,767,519. The council is almost embarrassed to find proper means to dispose of the profits. In 1905 the system paid working expenses, put $334,036 into maintenance and repairs, and paid $188,731 in local taxes. There still remained $1,837,704 as net profits. This was equivalent to a dividend of 12.3 per cent, on the total capital investment in the plant, and 20 per cent, on the present outstanding indebtedness.

That is why the man on the tram complains. He says the council is not only making him pay for his ride, but also pay for the plant, by charging twice as much as it costs to carry him. He thinks it unfair to compel this generation to make a present of the enterprise free from debt to the next one. He points to the fact that the system is worth $14,965,305. In eleven years’ time the debt has been reduced to $8,835,939, while $762,873 additional has been paid into the “common good” as well as a like sum in taxes. At this rate, the plant will be free from indebtedness in less than ten years’ time.

The council replies by saying: “Look at your fares. They have been cut down one-third. Those who travel are better off by $1,000,000 a year than they would have been under private management. In eleven years’ time the savings alone to the passengers exceed the total bonded debt now against the system. The enterprise has already paid for itself out of earnings and savings. It looks as though it had not only paid for itself, but earned about a million dollars besides. It has also repaid the cost of the old horse lines, as well as a splendid manufacturing plant where all the cars and equipment are built by the city by direct labor.”

Such, at least, are the figures which “The Glasgow Corporation Tramways” publish to the world. I asked Mr. Dalrymple about the effect of municipal ownership on the people. He said:

“The opening of the trams in 1894 was coincident with, many people would say it was the cause of, the renaissance of civic enthusiasm that has characterized the last ten years of the life of the city. Undoubtedly the more things the city does for the people, the more the people are interested in the city. Municipal ownership fosters interest in municipal affairs.”

The man on the tram is evidently right. He owns the trams; therefore he is interested in them. He owns the gas, the water, the electricity supply, and the telephones. Therefore he watches them. He loves Glasgow just as does the Lord Provost, the hard-headed alderman, the man in the club, the care-taker of the city’s sewage works. The city is his parent. It cares for him. And it is worth working for. It is so big in its ideals, so big in its achievements, so big in its kindness and goodness.

The Glaswegian still grumbles a little in his pride. Probably he will always grumble. That is one of the things government means to him. He got his trams, his telephones, his parks, his concerts, by grumbling. But his present trouble is a bigger one. He says: “We extended our tram lines far out into the suburbs; we had so many poor, such terrible slums, so much sickness, vice, and misery. We wanted to give our people a chance, wanted to get them out of the tenements and into the country where land was cheap. We reduced our fares. In consequence, earnings fell off. Instead of making land cheap for the poor, we made it valuable for the landlords. We cut down commuters’ fares a pound a year, and rentals went up exactly one pound a year. We sought to secure cheap homes for our people, but the land speculator appropriated the whole thing.”

Then he did what he always does —this Glaswegian. He worried the council, and the council in turn went to Parliament. The council said: “We have created immense fortunes for the land-owners about the city. But not content with what he has already got, the landlord wants more, and sits idly by until the people must have his land at any price.” The council introduced a bill in Parliament to tax these land values and retake to itself a portion of the millions which its enterprise had created, and which it is now fined for using. It did more. It laid aside $5,000 to promote the bill. Tons of literature were distributed and the city’s officials were turned into agents for propaganda work. When Glasgow wants a thing, it wants it hard. Then the council called a conference of cities on “The Taxation of Land Values.” More than one hundred local authorities responded. Then they all moved on Parliament and proceeded to worry the members. Of course, Parliament wouldn’t listen. For the members of Parliament own Great Britain. They are getting rich out of the growth of the towns. And they have paid no taxes on their land as land for several centuries at least. This is a fact—English land has not been reappraised for taxation since the seventeenth century.

In its attitude toward Parliament, Glasgow reminds one of a terrier barking at the heels of a mastiff. I fancy Parliament must hate this heckling, thrifty municipality that is forever making war on the abuses and privileges which everywhere exist in England and which are so profitable. For the members of Parliament not only own the land, they own the big city franchises, just as the United States Senate owns or represents the big railroads. And it must be annoying, this nagging against monopoly. But that’s the way he got his municipal telephone system. For five long years the city spent money and energy trying to induce Parliament to permit it to open an exchange in competition with the private company which was giving bad service and charging high rates. It finally got permission in 1901. The system has now twelve thousand subscribers and covers 143 square miles. An unlimited telephone service cost $25.55 a year, and a limited one only $17.03. The population served is about a million. Then the private company reduced charges. But despite the cheapening of rates, the exchange makes money, even in the face of the competition of the old established company.

The telephone was the last big enterprise taken over. The city has had the water supply since 1855. It bought out two private companies. Then it went to Loch Katrine, 34 miles away, in the heart of the Highlands, to get a supply. Glasgow spent millions for pure water, and now has one of the finest supplies in the world. It makes money, too, though the rates for domestic use are but ten cents in the pound of rental. This means that for every $100 of house rental paid an additional charge of $2 is made for water service.

The gas supply is also owned by the city. It was bought from private parties in 1869. It is run for the benefit of the people and not for the sake of dividends. Gas is sold at 51 cents a thousand cubic feet for domestic use; for power purposes the price is but 43 cents. The very poor are encouraged to use gas by penny-in-the-slot devices by which one can get enough gas with which to cook a meal for two cents. It also encourages industry by low prices. This diminishes the smoke nuisance. Despite the reduction in price, the net profits in 1905 amounted to $271,930.

The price of gas has been reduced from year to year. It was 78 cents in 1885, 60 cents in 1895. To-day it ranges from 43 to 51 cents. The financial showing is almost as remarkable as the tramways. While the capital expenditure is $18,319,170, present actual indebtedness is but $9,340,200. The surplus of expenditure, over and above the debt against the undertaking, is $8,978,970. This is what the city has made through owning the plant, in addition to the millions saved by cheaper gas.

The electricity supply has been owned since 1892. The city bought out a private monopoly for $75,000. Then it proceeded to make the plant useful. For that is the policy of Glasgow, to make itself useful to its people. It proceeded to enlarge the system, to extend the conduits all over the city. It has since spent about $6,000,000 on the undertaking. Now it can serve everybody, and serving everybody, can reduce charges. It also sells power to the tramway department and to manufacturing plants. For Glasgow tries to encourage industry just as it aims to promote comfort and convenience. For very small consumers, the rates for lighting are 12 cents per kilowat hour and 2 cents for all current in excess of a small minimum. For power and heating purposes, the charge is from 1 1-2 cents to 3 cents according to the quantity used. The average price received from all consumers is 5.09 cents.

Glasgow says it would be just as absurd for the owner of a sky-scraper to permit a private elevator company to collect fares from his tenants, or for an outside plumber to own the fixtures and collect for light and heat, as it is for a city to turn over its streets to private tramways, gas and electric lighting companies. Glasgow prefers to do its own plumbing and run its own elevators.