HC Deb 04 July 1862 vol 167 cc1444-8

said, he rose to call the attention of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to the system of extortionate fares demanded by the Drivers and Conductors of public conveyances in the Metropolis, and to the absence; of any proper limitation of fares in the present regulation of Omnibus traffic. The subject was one of great public interest and importance, especially at that moment. When he brought the matter to the notice of the Home Secretary on the 16th of last month, he expected to receive a more satisfactory reply than the right hon. Gentleman had given. That reply was to the effect that— It was impossible to adopt the same regulations as to the rates and fares of omnibuses as existed in regard to hackney carriages. Omnibuses were a description of stage carriage; but the law did provide that the fares charged should be uniform for all passengers, and should be according to a scale conspicuously painted within the vehicle. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman, from communications which he received every day, as well as from the constant complaints that were made, and the state of things which the police reports disclosed, that there was a wide spread disinclination to tolerate such a system of public exaction as now prevailed, and that that House and the Government would be held responsible. At a time when we had invited foreigners of all nations to our Exhibition—and the fulness of the hotels, and the almost impassable state of the thoroughfares, showed how they had responded to the invitation—we had done absolutely nothing to correct the glaring faults in our modes of public conveyance, and we were handing over the persons and purses of our visitors to the rapacity and extortion of the least conscientious portion of the community. It was highly prejudicial to the public convenience that omnibuses should be subject to no better supervision, and that they were enabled to charge double fares whenever an increased demand was made upon them. Railways and hackney carriages were subject to strict regulations, and it was strange that a mode of conveyance to which the poorest classes in the community were obliged to resort should be under such very little control. A case which was reported in The Times of the 25th of June would illustrate the matter. A Mr. Smith, an omnibus proprietor, was summoned by Inspector Carter, at the instance of Sir Richard Mayne, before Mr. Ingham, at the Hammersmith Police Court. The charge was, that the extreme places between which the omnibus ran were not painted on the table of fares. Mr. Ingham said, he was not aware of any law by which omnibus proprietors could be compelled to paint the distances on the table of fares; and the defendant said, his fare was 6d. for any distance; the public could please themselves whether they rode or not; he was not aware of any law by which omnibus proprietors were compelled to charge certain fares, and if they thought proper to charge half-a-crown for each passenger, they could do so. The newspapers were full of complaints from our own countrymen, but it was for our visitors that he particularly felt, because, from their imperfect acquaintance with our language, and with the distance of places which they wished to go to, they were peculiarly liable to extortionate demands. It had fallen under his own observation that three foreign gentlemen were asked 1s. apiece by the conductor of an omnibus for riding from the Exhibition to Charing Cross; and, upon his remonstrating with the conductor, he was informed by the man that as long as he exhibited a placard of increased fares outside, he had a right to make that or any such charge. He contended that legislation on the question was not impossible. The suggestion had been made that there should be an uniform rate of one penny a mile, or for less than a mile; that no fare should be less than twopence; that all omnibuses should travel at a rate not less than seven miles an hour, with other regulations. A second suggestion was, that there should be a list of fares conspicuously placed both inside and outside the omnibus, and that no change should be permitted to take place in the amount of the fare except after one month's notice published in the London Gazette and in two of the morning papers. A third and very valuable suggestion was, that on every application for the renewal of an omnibus licence, a table of fares should be produced, which should afterwards be adhered to. Another nuisance was the practice of nursing, which ought to be put an end to. With regard to the London omnibus, it was more inconvenient, and less adapted for ingress and egress, than any similar vehicle which could be found in any other country in Europe. It certainly required reconstruction. As to the cabs, he acknowledged the more defined regulations which were in force respecting them; but still there was great room for improvement. For example, the law seemed inadequate at present to compel the attention of drivers to a hirer unless the number of the party was such as seemed to promise a better fare than usual. He would suggest that the police, as well as private persons, should institute prosecutions in all these cases, for few persons could follow the excellent example set by Sir Frederick Slade the other day, and summon, in the public interest, omnibus conductors or cab-drivers who were guilty of imposition. That domestic question possessed just now a cosmopolitan interest, and he hoped that the Government would not lose sight of it.


said, he was sorry the answer which he gave a short time previously did not appear sufficient to the hon. Gentleman. There was a great distinction between cabs, which plied for hire for uncertain distances, and omnibuses, which, like stage-coaches, plied between certain given points. Still, some of the suggestions of the hon. Gentleman were worth consideration. On the other hand, the law already provided for some of the cases mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. For instance, omnibus "nursing" accompanied with violence or obstruction, was an offence which was already punished by suspension of licences, and by fine. Many of the complaints made as to the public vehicles of the metropolis were caused by the very unusual demand for them. In ordinary times competition was the best security for low fares in omnibuses; but at present the demand much exceeded the supply, and that was even more true of cabs than of omnibuses. Then, with regard to police prosecutions, the police had received instructions, upon which they acted, to watch the conduct of cab-drivers where they refused to take up passengers; and numerous cases had occurred in which, upon the information of the police, cab-drivers had been fined and their licences suspended. It was impossible at such a time to prevent the misconduct of individual drivers, and in all cases to secure their punishment; but the police were doing everything they could to protect the public, both Englishmen and foreigners, against imposition. With regard to the inconvenience of the present omnibus, Parliament could not well prescribe the form of the vehicle, or make any minute regulations respecting it; but one improvement would certainly be, that the table of fares should be painted outside as well as in. It was hardly worth while to bring in a Bill on purpose to effect that object; but it might be desirable at an early period to revise the law with regard to public vehicles, and then he would bear in mind the suggestions of the hon. Member, with a view to any improvement which seemed necessary.