LONG SAD STORY
Thirty years of sorrows, trials and tribulations in street car operation in Topeka were recounted to the Kansas public utilities commission today by A. M. Patten, general manager of the Topeka Railway company. Patten appeared before the commission as the principal witness for the company in an application for increased street car fares in Topeka and Oakland.
Starting with stories of boom day transit line construction in the 80’s--days when Topeka boasted four independent dummy lines and a horse and mule system--Patten told of millions which promoters have sunk here. His story was of mergers, transfers, consoli dations and bond and stock issues--always and ever with the same ending--losses to the investors.
Story of Years of Troubles
Patten’s testimony was the general story of years of endeavor to make a fair return on the street railway game here. He will be followed to the stand by officials who will explain the detailed figures of operating expenses and the little red marks in the profit and loss columns.
Mayor Corwine sat beside Fred S. Jackson, attorney for the state commission during the morning session. Mayor Corwine will aid commission attorneys in the fight to establish the claim that the street railway is losing money and cannot operate under it’s franchise agreement of 5 cents.
General hard luck has pursued street railway activities in Topeka, Patten asserted. In the early 90’s consolidations and mergers gave Topeka a single system and aided in reducing the overhead expense of
operation. In 1892 local interests took over the combined capital stock issue of $1,250,000 and $1,100,000 in bonds, he said.
The next year the panic hit. The Santa Fe reduced it’s shop forces, the company’s credit was shattered and it found trouble in securing money.
Bicycle First Competitor
Then came the bicycle. Hundreds of former patrons rode to work on their wheels. Gross revenues dropped from $400 ad day to $200.
Later an independent line was built to Vinewood park and an amusement resort opened. This venture resulted in the sale of the local system. But Vinewood didn’t pay and was closed several years after the system was acquired by the McKinley interests in 1910. In the period from 1903 to 1910 investors in the system borrowed $1,250,000 on personal notes, Patten said, and the line was rebuilt and new equipment installed. Patten said that a million and a half dollars were actually spent on improvements from 1903 to 1910.
Topeka and Oakland looked like a good bet to the McKinley interests when they bought the line in 1910 and paid $95 a share for the stock and assumed a bond debt of slightly more than a million dollars. Patten told the commission of numerous extensions, betterments and improvements by the Illinois Traction company, controlled by W. B. McKinley and associates.
Patten then asserted that the remaining $396,668.48 which went to stockholders reduced their investment here from $1,516, 863.88 to the present actual investment of $1,118, 195.40.
A total average investment during the nine-year period of $1,352,181.00 was claimed by Patten. He said that the average annual return to the
company from the Topeka- Oakland lines was $44,298.00 or 3.27 per cent a year. In 1918, the general manager testified, the return above operating expense was $53,505.05, without charging off anything for upkeep and depreciation.
Investor Gets Nothing
“There was no return to the investors,”
After the street railway had passed the bicycle stage, it was hit by the automobile, said Patten. The effect of this situation was shown, he said, in the fact that with numerous extensions and the growth of the city, gross revenues for 1918 were but slightly more than in 1912.
Patten admitted that much track and equipment is in bad condition. War time improvements were deferred, he said, because of conditions. Many needed repairs could not be made because of orders of war boards.
Enormous increases in cost of equipment and materials, as well as labor expense were recited. Patten recalled prices on various classes of equipment which had increased from 40 to 100 per cent and in a few instances increases of 300 were claimed. He said that the wage scale of 19 and 23 cents an hour before the war had now been advanced to 34 and 38 cents.
Patten was called to the stand immediately following a statement of the case by T. F. Doran, attorney for the street railway company. An increase in street railway rates was asked in 1918. It was denied by the commission which stated that should losses continue, the company might return with another application this year. Patten was recalled to the stand this afternoon for completion of his direct testimony. He will be cross examined at length by attorneys for the commission and the city.
Clifford C. Baker, first president Topeka Railway Company.
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