Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/505

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489
GAS MANUFACTURE AND GAS COMPANIES.

pipes so that all who desire to burn gas may do so, which entails an expenditure in distribution that is not, perhaps, repaid by the sale of gas in the particular locality for many years; and a very large part of its first investment is in material that would not give any return in case it became bankrupt, or desirous of withdrawing from the business. Therefore it is entitled to a great deal of consideration, provided it performs "its duty to its customers, and is honorable in all its transactions." A general view is then taken of the London companies, the result of their competition, and the efforts which have been made to control them by parliamentary enactments. In the efforts that were made from time to time, between 1820 and 1857, to reduce the price of gas, a number of new companies were chartered and established, until at length thirteen existed, and in some of the streets the mains of three or four companies lay almost in contact with each other. When a leak occurred it was impossible to tell from which main the gas escaped—it was, in some places, impossible to tell with certainty to what company a particular main belonged, and it sometimes happened that a consumer would use the gas of one company and pay for it to another. These circumstances, of course, did not tend to lessen the cost of gas, and so the companies finally agreed to district the city off and abandon competition. Then followed a consolidation of five companies with others, so that only eight remained, and latterly three of these consolidated into one, whereby the number is reduced to six—which result, corresponding as it does with the history of gas companies elsewhere, proves that competition does not operate to reduce the price of gas. It only illustrates the truth of the remark made by John Stuart Mill, and accepted by other political economists, that "where the competitors are so few (as in the case of gas companies), they always end by agreeing not to compete. They may run a race of cheapness to ruin a new candidate, but as soon as he has established his footing they come to terms with him." It eventually ends by the public having to pay the profits on two or more capitals instead of one.

As early as 1820 a committee of Parliament, of which Sir William Congreve was chairman, reported in favor of granting a monopoly under certain restrictions to each company in its own district; but the recommendation was not adopted. As the matter now stands the companies are restricted by law from charging more than 3s. 9d. per 1,000 cubic feet, and from paying more than ten per cent, dividends on stocks. The law also compels the companies to submit their accounts to the inspection of an auditor, at his pleasure; to publish annual statements of the cost of manufacture, profits, etc.; and it empowers the local municipal authorities to erect works and supply gas if the companies will not agree to sell gas for 3s. 9d.; and the same authorities may, if they think that ten per cent. dividends can be paid at a less price