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loss to trie community was recognized to be of a serious character and any action on the part of the Commission or any other public body or any individual which would tend to prevent a recurrence of similar or the advent of even more serious labor difficulties would be a step in the right direction.
The Commission, therefore, on motion of Chairman Oscar S. Straus, early in 1917, held a number of hearings with reference to proposed legislation that would effectually prevent the interruption of operation by companies performing a public service. The hearings lasted several days and a plan as formulated by the Commission was discussed at length. Following the conclusions of the hearings, steps were taken to put the proposed plan into the form of a bill to be presented to your Honorable Body. The approaching participation of the United States in the world war, then clearly foreseen, seemed, however, to Chairman Straus and his associates, to warrant the withholding of the contemplated legislation at that time. The bill as drafted proposed an amendment to the Public Service Commissions Law which would strengthen the powers of the Commission in the case of labor disputes and permit the Commission to take an active hand to work constructively for their settlement. It- was aimed, at once, to meet the needs of employes, employers and the general public.
The plan was thought to offer on the side of helpfulness to employes, (a), freedom to organize; (b), proportional representation on a wage board; (c), fair and reasonable wages and working conditions; (d), redress of legitimate grievances; (e), power to negotiate collectively with employers; (f), faithful enforcement of agreements and awards relating to wages and working conditions; and (g), security of employment. The plan was proposed to guarantee to employers, (a), registration of trades unions and agreements; (b), decision of wage disputes or other grievances upon the basis of fact; (c), maintenance of discipline and efficiency; (d), reasonable permanency of staff; and (e), avoidance of interruption in the service. The public, it was suggested, would gain the following: (a), fair consideration of wage increases and working conditions; (b), rate adjustments based thereon; (c), uninterrupted service; (d), better and more efficient service through reasonable security of tenure to employes and the best possible working conditions; (e), avoidance of accidents caused by inexperienced men; (f), complete supervision and regulation of the service.
Among those who appeared at the several hearings to discuss the proposed plan were Attorney-General Merton E. Lewis, Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor, Professor Samuel McCune Lindsay, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, Morris Hillquit, Robert W. Bruere, Dr. Felix Adler, John B. Parkinson, Miss Florence Kelly, Everett P. Wheeler, Miss Pauline Goldmark, Edmond C. Hill, John A. Fitch, Hugh Frayne and Delos F. Wilcox.
Fare Increases Proposed Late in May applications were filed by or in behalf of practically all of the street surface railroads operating in New York City asking for relief from the financial dilemma created by war conditions. Operating costs and prices for materials had risen to such a height that the companies stated they must either reduce service, other retrenchments seeming impossible, or obtain additions to income. On May 25 the Third Avenue Railroad Company and its allied and subsidiary companies operating in Manhattan and The Bronx filed with the Commission applications for permission to charge two cents for transfers. Similar applications were made by the surface railroads of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit system and by the New York Railways Company, operating in Manhattan. About the same time an application was made on behalf of the street surface railroads in Staten Island for permission to charge a straight six-cent fare in place of a five-cent fare, while the New York & North Shore Traction Company operating in the northeastern portion of Queens Borough applied for a straight increase to seven cents from its existing five-cent fare. The New York & Queens County Railroad Company, allied with the Iiiterborough-New York Railways group, asked the Commission for such general relief as would permit it at least to meet its operating expenses, making no specific request, however, as to the method through which it desired to obtain such relief. An application was received from the receiver of the Second Avenue Railroad Company, also general in its terms, stating that the company desired financial relief and requesting the Commission to set forth a method by which such might be obtained.
The petition of the New York & Queens County Railroad Company was returned to that company as being defective in form and lacking a specific statement of what was desired by the company. It has not since been renewed. The Commission on May 31, 1917, adopted a memorandum stating that the application of the receiver for the Second Avenue Company was not addressed to any direct question over which the Commission has jurisdiction, and therefore the Commission had no power to make an order such as was requested.
A number of hearings were held upon the other applications during the summer, the case begun on the application of the New York & North Shore Company being closed and awaiting decision at the end of the year, while much testimony had been taken under the application of the Third Avenue Company as well as in the other pending cases. These, however, were adjourned from time to time, in view of expression of a desire by the Commission that the companies furnish it with such figures as would substantially constitute an appraisal of the companies' properties, the Commission indicating that it must have definite information along these lines before being able to act.
Toward the end of the year freight congestion became even more acute than it had been during the summer, due very largely to the pressure of export shipments to foreign countries and to supply the American forces abroad. So serious did the situation become that the Federal Government assumed control of the railroads. In the meantime a Special War Committee of the National Association of Railway and Utilities Commissioners had been giving consideration to the matter as a result of conferences held with a view towards securing thorough co-operation in war measures among the regulatory commissions in the several states and the various railroad companies. Travis H. Whitney, of the Public Service Commission for the First District, State of New York, Ealph W. E. Donges, of the Public Utilities Commission of New Jersey, and James S. Harlan, of the Interstate Commerce Commission, were appointed a Special Joint Committee to investigate and take steps toward clearing up the freight congestion in the metropolitan district, centering about the Port of New York.
Commissioners Donges and Whitney were two of the five members of the Special War Committee of the National Association of Railway and Utilities Commissioners. Under the auspices of this joint committee, the inspectors of the three commissions were promptly set to work to determine the freight situation as it existed at terminals, depots and piers in New York and along the Jersey shore.
Checks were made to determine the length of time that freight cars were held before being unloaded, to ascertain whether consignees were using freight cars for storage purposes and to see whether by any rearrangement of the routing greater freedom of cars could be had. The Commissioners sent out a special appeal and warning to the various consignees, urging them to unload cars as rapidly as received in order to keep side tracks open and cars moving. The several investigations showed a number of serious situations, which the Joint Committee was able to relieve by calling the attention of consignees to them and taking such vigorous steps as conditions warranted.
The Last Horse Car
After practically three quarters of a century of continuous use, horse car transportation in New York City finally ceased in 1917 as a result of orders of the Commission that the companies find a substitute. Storage battery cars have been provided upon such of the lines as were recently operated by horse-drawn vehicles, except where such lines have been abandoned as no longer needed. The last horse car was operated on July 26, over one of the lines of the Bleecker Street & Fulton Ferry Railroad Company, a subsidiary of the New York Railways system. Passengers upon the last car included members of the Commission and officers of the operating company.
Co-ordinatioist Of Utilities As a result of a call issued by Chairman Oscar S. Straus to the heads of the public utility corporations a conference was held at the offices of the Commission on May 17, out of which grew an organization, designated as " The Committee of Public Service" with the object of so co-ordinating the several utilities as to make them of the greatest service to the City and country in the war emergency and to bring about co-operation looking to the continuous operation of each utility for the duration of the war. Commissioner Travis H. Whitney was designated as the Chairman of this Committee, which has done much effective work since its organization in securing supplies of coal and other materials for the several companies and in taking steps to assure a continuation of their functions.
West Side Trace: Problem Chapter 719 of the Laws of 1917, of which mention has been made, confers joint jurisdiction upon the Commission and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment over the disposal of the tracks of the New- York Central Railroad Company on the west side of Manhattan Island. The Legislature in 1911 amended the Railroad Law, vesting the j^ower to compel the alteration of the New York Central tracks solely in the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which proceeded to plan and approve a method of settlement. The plans thus put forth aroused such general public opposition, however, that the Legislature of 1917 provided for participation by the Public Service Commission through a Joint Committee of members of both boards, to whom was delegated the duty of formulating a plan for disposition of the tracks, including their removal from grade. As Commission members of this Committee Chairman Oscar S. Straus designated Commissioners Henry W. Hodge and Charles S. Hervey. The former was elected Chairman of the Joint Committee. Upon the departure of Commissioner Hodge for France to join the American Expeditionary Forces, Chairman Straus designated Commissioner Travis H. Whitney to membership on the Committee. Commissioner Hervey succeeded Commissioner Hod^e as Chairman.