SHALL WE AS WATER COMPANIES FURNISH THE PRIVATE SERVICES OF OUR PATRONS FREE UP TO AND INCLUDING THE METERS?*
Our subject is in the form of an inquiry. It is in this form because it expresses the attitude of waterworks managers and superintendents all over the country. On the one hand such administrators are not satisfied with the current practice of charging for private services and meters because of growing objections against the practice. On the other hand, they are not just sure that a change to a free service and meter is the next step to take. What I have to offer in this paper will consist of such considerations as seem to me to justify water companies in furnishing the meters free to their patrons, and the private services as well, at least up to the meters. These considerations have had such weight in my own mind that I have already introduced the practice in one of the plants 1 am operating. This step seems to me to be justified, because, so far as the meter is concerned, it falls into line with general business usage. In accordance with such usagi the seller furnishes the means of measuring and weighing the articles he sells. The grocer, the butcher, the feed man, all furnish their own scales, and would never think of compelling the customer to pay for this part of the selling transaction. If there is any natural equity in the case, which of the two should pay the bill ol measuring or weighing, we believe all will admit that it belongs to the seller. The goods sold art not delivered to the customer for the price he pays for them until they are given to him in the amount for which the price is paid. This requires that they should be delivered as weighed Why then should the waterworks customer be on any different basis from the purchasers of any other commodity? He does not get what he pays for until he is given the amount for which we make our price to him. This means that we shall furnish the measuring of the water at our own expense. But to deliver the water as measured requires we should furnish the meter. Now this method of reasoning is exactly that employed by water takers when they first come to arrange for the use of water from the company. Under these circumstances, if we compel the customer to pay for his own meter, he will submit to it as a matter of necessity, and not because he is convinced it is right. He is all the less convinced when he sees that his own sense of right is reinforced by the uniform usage of all the rest of the business world. I bis unsatisfied sense of fairness is not a good asset for water companies. It lays the foundations of discontent with everything else the water company may have to do with him. including the price it asks for water, and the regulations that the company may justly require for the very existence of its business. Then, too the customer’s belief is that you are arbitrary and will certainly make a vote against the company in every political issue that may afterwards arise with the water company as a leading factor in it. To illustrate this situation let me give a well-known instance.
A familiar figure in waterworks controversies is that of the retired farmer. After years of hard work and hard savings upon his farm he conns to town to enjoy his well-earned rest. He builds a comfortable house in which economy has necessarily figured in all its equipment. To finish up the whole job he comes to the water company to arrange for his water service. You hand him a form of agreement to sign, in which he agrees to pay for the private service from the mains to bis property line, and thence over his own property to bis house; then he is to pay also for his meter, and if a meter pit is required, for that also; then lie is to agree to keep all the rules of the company, many of them of mysterious import to his mind; as a further element in his long agreement he is to pay for the water at a sliding scale of prices based on the amount he uses from month to month: then to cap the climax he is required to subscribe to an arrangement where by he pays for a given amount of water during the year, whether he uses it or not. As one after another of these agreements are brought to his mind there is first an expression of perplexity upon his face. As you attempt to explain and argue for these requirements his expression of per plexity gives way to amazement, and finally he goes away to think over these unusual agreements, as he considers them. After a few days rumination over the situation he will return, cither to tell you that he has decided to put in a well; or, if he has to submit to all the conditions you have imposed, he will do so in a state of mind which makes him a practical anarchist, so far as the waterworks is concerned. He feels that your rules violate most every principle of common business practice. That for this reason you are unfair and arbitrary. He may take the water and accept the rules, but within will be a feeling of protest that bodes ill to the future of the water company. This retired farmer is perhaps the most insubordinate of all water consumers, and has the strongest feeling of resentment against waterworks usages. But all customers have with varying degrees this same feeling, and because they have it the most inevitable experience of water companies has been the certain and consolidated opposition of the public as time goes on.
* Paper read the Illinois Water Supply ASSOCIAtion.
Now some of these requirements of water companies embodied in their rules, which seem to an uneducated public arbitrary and contrary to general usage, are indispensable. Such, for example, is the minimum rate rule and that calling for the cutting off the water in case of a default in the payment of dues. It is doubtful if water companies could be conducted for any length of time without their protection. These, however, form a sufficient load for water companies to carry without adding others, where the reasons for them are not so clear and where the patron will be inclined to think that you are insisting on the lion’s share in your transaction with him. Personally, I have come to believe that the charging of the meter upon the customer is one of those acts which justly invites a feeling of unfairness on the part of the patron. 1 al?o believe that for this reason the company should furnish it. The same reasons which apply to the meter also apply to the furnishing of the private service free, at least to the property line of the patron. It is true that general business usage docs not require the vendor of wares to deliver those wares at the premises of the purchaser. But such usage is gaining right along, even in the smallest of places, as a matter of good business policy. Hence the rule requiring the patron of the water company to pay for his private service as far as it lies in the public street seems to such a patron to show a disposition on the part of the comnany to make him care for more than his share of the expense. The mains are brought to the door of the patron by reason of the hydrant rental paid by the city. Now to make the customer pay for the service, not only all the way over his private property to his house, but from his property line to the mains, seems to him more than his share. It looks to the patron as though all the companywanted to do in this matter is to sit by and take the income, doing as little as possible toward earning it. This impression is deepened in the mind of the patron when he knows that he has no right to put in the private service in the streets, or to repair it. without a special permit from the city or from the water company, who have such right in and through its franchise agreements. In other words, you compel the natron to invest in property that he cannot directly control. In case of the Buffalo box and stopcock. you even compel him to pay for the equipment by which you may have to discipline him in the future. One of the most serious issues I ever had with a patron in my waterworks experience was with a millionaire to whom the amount of money at issue was of no consideration whatever. He resisted the rule, however, because we required him to invest in a property be could not control, and over which we alone bad the control. and whose main use was for our benefit and convenience. Such causes of misundertanding over that portion of the private service that is in the streets are too real to pay water companies in loading this burden on their customer
A second reason for taking the affirmative of the question raised by our subject is because it is in accord with the growing usage of other public utilities. This is especially true of the gas companies. In cities like Chicago these companies put in all services free, up to and including the meters. In country towns this free service is limited to 60 or 65 feet from the mains. Electric light companies are also following more and more in the same path of the gas companies. This is perhaps the result of the competition between these two great agencies for the manufacture and distribution of illumination. But, however this may be, this usage of these two leading public utilities is educating the public into the idea that it is entitled to such free service. This helps to accentuate the discontent with waterworks practice which charges for the service connections by which the water front the mains is carried to the customer. It also increases the sense of arbitrariness and injustice in the minds of the customers, and so of their resentment against our administration. Another consideration gives a third reason for changing our usual practice with regard to services and meters. It grows out of the fact that the water companies, by putting in these parts of their distribution system themselves, are enabled thereby to control them more effectively for the advantage of the whole waterworks administration. One of the most common sources of loss to water companies is the waste of water through leaky services. Such leakage makes a material part of that great difference between the record of the water pumped as given by the pumps and that given by the total of meter readings. Where does all this water go to? Of course you may say that the estimate of the water pumped by the pumps is excessive. Very true; but make the pumping record what it ought to be and still there is a large difference. In like manner make a liberal estimate for all public uses of water, such as drinking fountains, fires, street sprinkling, flushing tanks, and still there is too much waste somewhere which ought to be eliminated in the interest of both the company and the patrons. We are persuaded a good share of this waste comes from poor service pipes and connections.
To get rid of this waste under the present method of water companies we have to make the patron repair these leaky fixtures and connections. Such a procedure immediately aggravates his feeling of injustice and nuts him on the defensive, especially as he thinks these repairs are for our benefit and not his. He is unwilling to be at this expense unless he is compelled to do it This obliges the company to resort to coercive measures. The usual antecedents and parleys, leading up to cutting off the water, cause delay and the continuance of the waste. Tt increases the irritation of the natron, and so brings on added antagonism, which makes all helpful cooperation between the water companies and their customers out of the question. It often goes further. and may even result in retaliations, which increase the loss for all parties concerned. But a great deal of the leakage of private services is never detected by any surface indications, and so may go on for months and even for years without remedy. Hence the importance for both the company and its customers that only the best and most durable of service pines and fittings be used, at least up to and including the meter. But bow can such a requirement be enforced upon the patron? He naturally wants bis service put in as cheaply as possible, and usually succeeds in accomplishing his purpose. Of course we have rules and claim the right of inspection of the work done in the putting in of private services, but in spite of all our rules and inspection, the material used and the work done is not as good nor as effective as we would secure if we did the work ourselves. For one reason the courts won’t back us up in demanding of our customers the kind of connections we would put in if we were putting in the work for our own companies. This has been tried and found wanting as a source of relief. Then companies have tried the plan of putting in the service pipes and connections at cost so as to insure a better class of connections, and those that can be insured against leakage But such a policy brings the ecmoany into collision with the whole plumbing fraternity. which is not desirable or useful. Besides, the patron will be shy of patronizing the company as against outsiders if the prices are not wide apart, even though the class of goods furnished is such. To sum up the whole situation, so far as private services are concerned, if we are going to get in a class of goods that will be durable and insure against leaks, the company will have to put them in at its own expense. But when you have decided to take this step other things follow. To showwhat some of these consequences are I will tell what I have started to do in one of the plants under my control. It consists of a method whereby the service pipes are entirely done away with in the streets. This is accomplished by putting the fire main in the terrace part of the street and putting a 4-inch cast-iron main in the terrace part of the other side of the street. At a point where the private service is to be connected into these mains a bricked meter pit is located, and in such a manner that the main shall barely enter the street side of this bricked pit. This enables the connecting of the service to the main where its condition can be easily watched and its leakage remedied, if any. This bricked pit also serves to enclose the cut-off valve or stop-cock, which also can be easily watched and kept from leaking. This also does away with the Buffalo box and with the necessity of digging it up when you want to cut off the stopcock, because the frost has heaved it to one side of the center of the cock.
Of course this method of attachment can only be employed where extensions are to be made and the mains laid so as to conform to requirements of the method. But whether we use this particular method or put in the service connections in the streets, the saving of leakage and its resulting wastes I am confident will prove a good investment for the water company. It saves delay in repairing leaky service pipes and fixtures, it does away with a great deal of leakage by furnishing good, durable connections in place of a poorer class of articles and of work, and it avoids the usual irritation and friction which arises in trying to make the patron provide against these losses and at his own expense. A fourth reason is in favor of the water companies putting in the private services and the meters free. IT IS BECAUSE IT STIMULATES THE USE or WATER. This is especially true in towns where water is easily available from wells and where the population has a large percentage of peo pie of limited means. The private service alone is quite an expense for a laboring man. If you add the cost of a meter it is a still greater burden If you compel the putting in of a meter pit he will have to think a long while and plan still longer before he indulges in the luxury of a waterworks connection. This is especially the case if he already has a good well on his prem ises. We find in our own experience that the response to a free meter and free service policy immdiately precipitates a large number of order? for water from classes who would otherwise have waited for years for the connection. The addition of this class of customers is an advantage in many ways. In small communities it may make the whole difference between a paying plant and one that is not. Where you have just enough customers to pay running expenses and fixed charges a very small increase in the use of watet will make the plant pay. This for the reason that where a plant is barely paying expenses, any increase in the water pumped is nearly all profit and so of double advantage.
Then, again, it helps the standing of any public utility plant to be of service to all classes and especially to those of more limited means otherwise it will be considered as belonging to the privileged few. When this opinion prevails the waterworks will be at the mercy of evendemagogue who becomes interested in appealing to the prejudices of those who have come to feel that they are excluded from its public benefits The free meter and the free service is especially adapted to do away with this feeling among the working people of any community, particularly if it follows a period where the opposite policy has been in force. It makes them feel grateful for being made the subjects of considerate treat ment, and so brings about an access of loyalty where perhaps before there has been latent or open hostility. In so far as my own experience goes, which, however, so far has been limited, the free policy has been very encouraging. In con elusion let me answer some objections that have already been asked where this policy has been under discussion. The first will be that the burden of water companies is already sufficient with out the added exoense this policy involves. One of the oldest waterworks operators in the state replied to this question under discussion: “I have already enough stuck in the business to put in any more.” The feeling expressed by this statement has grown out of the conflicts between the water companies and their patrons. It is a feeling that is based upon the conviction that the public has determined to deal unfairly with the water company, and that it is not safe to risk any more in vestment than can be helped. I am not unmind ful of the attitude of the public toward franchise water companies, particularly in the State of Illi nois. I have been obliged to know what this atti tude is in my own experience as manager of s plant in the state.
I am ready to concede that up to the present time public sentiment has been unreasonable and often hostile to the rights and property inter ests of such companies. This is partly because of the attitude of the public toward all public service corporations, and in part also because of mis takes and unwise methods of water companies themselves. Notwithstanding all these facts, I believe the American people are not disposed in the long run to be unfair. I believe that they an especially responsive to any efforts on the part of the water companies that are manifestly designed for the good of the patrons as well as the com pany. I believe further that a water company tha is administered on the basis of a policy of co-operative effort between the company and itpatrons, and for their mutual interest, will win out in any community, for it is still true, as of old, that “he that will be greatest among men must be the servant of all.” A second objection raised to the free meter and service is that the returns for water under conditions of minimum rate charge do not afford sufficient returns to make the investment pay. I do not care to dog matize on the subject, but the following figures taken from the records of one of our small plants, are suggestive. According to these records the cost of a 54-inch service upon a four-rod wide street, including the meter pit and the meter, was inside of $30. Allowing 15 per cent, for interest on such investment and the depreciation charges and we have $4.50 as the annual charge against such a service. Our minimum rate at this plant and for such free meter and service connections is $10. The average amount of water pumped through such services where the minimum rate applied was less than 20,000 gallons during the year. In other words, we got $5.50 for pumping 20,000 gallons of water through those free meter and free service connections. In other words after amply providing for the cost of the in vestment in such services we got pay for the water at the rate of 27.5 cents per 1,000 gallons So far as this experiment has gone, we have had no reason to complain about the paying character of the investment. A third objection will be made to this free policy. It is that in certain cases the parties may leave the property before the company has had time to recover on this invest ment. In our own practice we have made parties who were shaky pay for such free service when put in, and have repaid them by crediting up to them the charges for water as they accrued. In this way we have insured ourselves against all losses so far. I am aware that I have omitted many considerations that ought to be brought forward in discussing so radical a departure from the usual practice of water companies. But I have already exceded the limit of time given for my paper, and so leave the subject to be considered in the light of the wider experience and the collective judgment of the members of this association.
CHAIRMAN: Gentlemen, you have heard Mr Wheeler’s very frank and interesting paper. It is now before you for discussion.
MR. MCGONIGALE: Mr. Wheeler’s paper is very interesting because it covers a practical question with which many of us have to deal. The great est objection I see to it is that many companies have not a sufficient minimum meter rate to justify the installation by the company of the consumer’s service pipe and meter free of charge Some companies are permitted to charge as a minimum meter rate only $5 per year, and as suming that the installation of service pipe and meter would cost the company on an average of $30, it is apparent that it would require about six years in many instances before the revenue derived from certain consumers would be sufficient to reimburse the company for the original expense of installing a service pipe and meter free of charge to the consumer, to say nothing of the water actually furnished during the six years. In addition there would be the loss of interest on service pipe and meter. I am satisfied that if water companies could comply consistently with Mr. Wheeler’s suggestions it would do away with a great deal of the friction that does exist between the consumer and the company.
The low minimum meter rate, together with the general tendency toward lower rates, is, however, the great objection to Mr. Wheeler’s sug gestions from an equitable standpoint.
MR. WHEELER: I would like to ask the gentleman if be means to say that he has a minimum rate of only $5 per year?
MR. MCGONKIALE: Am sorry to say that we have.
MR. GANNON: We have a minimum rate of 35 cents per month. This is according to an ordinance passed by the council. They have fixed this minimum rate where we or the consumer place the meter. The flate rate for sprinkling is $1 per year. This ordinance was passed on Jannary 1, 1910. Also, about three months ago, the council passed an ordinance to compel the company to put the water service from main to lot line for the consumers. We have a maximum meter rate of 17 cents and a minimum rate of 15 cents for residence. We filter and pump our water twice.
MR. WHEELER: You are not obliged to submit to anything of the kind.
MR. GANNON: We are trying the rates out. They are very low, but the people expect the free service and the meter, too. I was going to say that if we had to put in the service and meter at $4.20 per year I figure that it would cost our company 35 cents per month or over to read meters. (Laughter.)
MR. WHEELER: It occurs to me that the people of Cairo have not yet gotten over their mania fot murder, and they are now after the water company. (Laughter.)
Tarrytown Mas Water.
The Consolidated Water Company of Tarrytown. N. Y., has decided to tap the Croton aqueduct at Ardsley. instead of Shaft 9, as it can be accomplished quicker. By working night and day the work was completed last Thursday morning. New York City has agreed to let the company have 3,000.000 gallons daily, which will relieve the water famine at Tarrytown.
Mayor Fiske of Mount Vernon says that there is no ground for fearing a water famine in Mount Vernon, although Pocantico lake is almost entirely dry and other supply sources are rendered useless by the lack of rain. Mount Vernon, he said, is receiving about two-thirds of the usual water supply through a 16-inch main from the Mamaroneck river.
“Although there is a sacarcity of water in Mount Vernon,” said Mayor Fiske, “there is no cause for uneasiness. If the people will be a little careful and not waste the water, things will be all right. There is plenty of water in case of fire. Mount Vernon is in much better shape than North Pelham. where the water supply is completely exhausted.”
The officials of the Interurban Water Company expressed some uneasiness because of a sewer which is being laid beneath the Mount Vernon water main from the Mamaroneck river, in New Rochelle. It was thought that the blasting might damage the main and cut off entirely the local water supply. Mayor Fiske conferred with Mayor Colwell of New Rochelle, and an agreement was reached whereby the blasting in the vicinity of the water main will be discontinued until a sufficient supply can be assured from other sources.
Break in Main at Cincinnati.
A break in a 42-inch water main at Cincinnati, a few days ago, resulted in undermining several buildings and doing considerable other damage. The pressure was 70 pounds at the time. A hole 15 inches square was torn in the pavement, the water burst forth and flowed through the streets in a great wave, inundating everything in its course. There was the usual maximum of pressure, with but a minmum of consumption, the factories being closed and but little water being used. Naturally, if there were any weak points in a pipe, the weakest had to give way.