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Too hot for the competition: Tom Coldicutt and the Blue Funnel Motor Line of jitneys.

June 23, 2014

In June 1917 Vancouver transit workers were on strike, ostensibly against the British Columbia Electric Railway Company, but effectively against the company’s rising competition: the jitney.jitney cars -  blue funnel line - new westminster - Vancouver Archives photo

About 800 employees of the BCER street car and interurban rail system, had struck for higher wages, citing an increased cost of living due to the war.

The company claimed it could not pay higher wages because jitneys —  owner-operated automobiles for hire charging a flat-rate fare and running mostly on set routes  — were skimming off the “cream” of the commuter traffic.

The union was forced to defend itself against charges the walkout was in aid of the company’s goal of applying  pressure to politicians to outlaw the jitneys.

Fake strike or not, social policy adopted and legislation enacted as the outcome of this labor disruption continues to influence commuter service in the British Columbia down to the present day — effectively deterring innovative commuter options, such as summon-ride operator Uber, in the name of the common good.

The context of the strike was the First World War and the conditions on the home-front.  War-time shortages had caused a rise in prices, putting pressure on the wage-packet.  Moreover, Vancouver had experienced a loss of population. More that 30,000 men had left for service overseas and families had contracted, with perhaps 15,000 individuals returning to homes back east.

The street railway was also feeling the pinch of inflation and increased taxation, while holding the line on fares. In addition, private trucking firms had syphoned off much of the freight business.

During the strike, the first concern of commuters was how they would get to work or to appointments. In the back of their minds they worried about the strike’s outcome being a fare-increase.

Business interests facing a loss of income during the transit shut-down feared a darker outcome–the possibility the BCER would raise gas and electricity rates to subsidize the suffering transit division.

Blue Funnel – The flagship line

About 200 jitneys were providing service on the streets of Vancouver and its suburbs.  Forty-one of these cars were affiliated with the Blue Funnel Motor Line which ran on the Kingsway route to New Westminster and extended via feeder lines into the far flung suburbs of the lower mainland.  Three lines crossed the New Westminster Bridge to service districts south of the Fraser River.

TD ColdicuttThomas Davis Coldicutt started the Blue Funnel Motor Line in 1915 with three cars. Not afraid to go head to head against powerful interests, Coldicutt had been a steamboat operator on Fraser River running opposition to the Canadian Pacific boats, and as a municipal councillor in Burnaby, Coldicutt opposed the BC Electric franchise by-law, his campaign literature stating:

"it was due principally to the vigorous fight put up by Councillor Coldicutt that the obnoxious measure was defeated and Burnaby saved from what would have amounted to practically a perpetual franchise."

Associated with Coldicutt as shareholders in the Blue Funnel Motor Line were George E Neilson, listed as President, and Q. McGill, manager of the New Westminster office. Tom Coldicutt’s brother Bert (SH Coldicutt) also joined the company in 1917.

For three years Coldicutt had fended off competing jitney lines trying to cut into the Blue Funnel franchise —  including the Union Jack line and the White Star line —  one of which had been a stalking horse of the BCER.  By shrewd management he had outlasted them all.

By 1917 Blue Funnel had 41 affiliated cars running under its flag and had expanded service into eleven municipalities.

Blue Funnel ran eleven cars on three feeder lines across the Fraser River Bridge, two of which took the Pacific Highway to South Port Mann and beyond, and the other branching off to Scott Road.

The commuter pie and the cream of the business

The Blue Funnel advantage was its ability to provide a faster and more convenient service. A trip from Vancouver to New Westminster could take 25 minutes by jitney — compared to 60 to 70 minutes by rail, allowing for transfer to a street-car line running into the residential neighborhoods.

On Kingsway, a paved thoroughfare opened in 1913, cars could run with minimum interruption and little traffic. It was stated that during the strike, jitneys were hitting 60 miles an hour between Vancouver and New West.

Cars departed the Blue Funnel office at Seymour and Hastings every 15 minutes roughly 7 am to midnight, and every 5 minutes during the evening rush hour,
 
The BCER, which had done extensive surveys of its opposition, stated that jitneys had claimed about one-third of the transit revenue pie.  A Blue Funnel jitney car could carry 8 passengers and charged a flat fare of 25 cents per person each way between Vancouver and New Westminster. In terms of passenger volume, for every full Blue Funnel car, 64 passengers were riding the Interurban at a rate of 30 cents return.  

Whereas the BCER argued it required an exclusive franchise on commuter service,  the jitneurs claimed they represented a superior means of passenger travel  and that  the future belonged to them. They pointed out that railway companies in England had  faced similar attempts by canal operators to suppress transportation innovation.

A moral aversion to the jitney car fogged the economic thinking of some of its opponents. The curtained compartments at the back of these cars had proved an attraction to young people on an evening out.

It’s settled then. . .

After just a week of the strike a large and influential committee of businessmen lobbied the city council of Vancouver to prohibit jitney traffic on the streets of the city in aid of increasing the profits of the railway company and facilitating a wage-increase to its employees.

The city was willing, hoping to get a reduction in light and power rates in return for passing a bylaw eliminating jitneys,  but required more justification — proof that the railway company was losing money to the jitney operators.  This would be accomplished with the aid of the province in appointing a commissioner.

With this arrangement in place the company at once acceded to the demands of the strikers, affording them the full wage increase, and on June 21, 1917 the trains and street cars were once again rumbling along. 
 

Shortt shrift

Commissioner Adam Shortt gave little weight to the interests of the jitneur, favoring the foreign investors of the British Columbia Electric Railway:  the owner’s  stake was not much and he could easily find other employment.  

1914 Studebaker - Blue Funnel Line - Vancouver Archives Photo

Assuming the jitneur stance — one foot up on the running board — an owner-operator poses his 1914 Studebaker in the middle of Columbia Street at Begbie Street, New Westminster. Running under the Blue Funnel Line flag, his car had traveled 200,000 miles providing bread for his family.

Dr Shortt’s report so pleased the BCER that the company published an annotated version.

For the most part,  the findings reflected the company position that an extensive and reliable transit system – in this case the private corporation BCER – must be granted some monopoly rights in its area of service, even to the extent of outlawing businesses offering different options to the commuting public.

"Jitney takes the cream"
"The non-paying parts must be attached to the paying parts, the strong must help the weak.  This is the principle on which street railways have been granted and the right to cater to any traffic at all. But the jitney has been allowed to take its choice of the traffic, it has taken away the cream of the business and left the skim milk.
In other words, the jitney takes away the part of the business by which the street railway is able to give the non-paying part of the service. "

General Manager George Kidd of the BC Electric, quoted in the Vancouver Sun, June 16, 1917.

 

"One of Two Services —Jitney or Electric—Must Go”
""An examination of the passenger conditions between New Westminster and Vancouver will indicate that much the largest and most profitable portion of the traffic is the through service between the central portions of the two cities.
In accordance with the free lance system of the typical jitney traffic, this is the portion which alone is sought by the Blue Funnel Line, leaving the more irregular, sparse and unprofitable traffic of the intermediate region to be served by the BC Electric or any other parties, private or corporate, who may care to attempt it.”
"The central principle on which any adequate street car service is necessarily built is that of utilizing the greater earning power of the heavier traffic routes to support, especially in their initial stages, the outlying routes with lighter traffic, which, however, will some day come to be first self-supporting and later contributors to the support of newer and more extended routes.”

Report of Commissioner Adam Shortt, November 1917.

     

The province of British Columbia provided legislation to the City enabling it to regulate transportation companies operating on the streets of Vancouver and on June 21, 1918 Vancouver passed a bylaw prohibiting jitney operation in the city and along the interurban line to New Westminster.

Blue Funnel Motor Line and assorted independent jitney operators kept on doing business and attempted to obtain an injunction forestalling legal action against them by the city. This was dismissed by Mr Justice Morrison, who, while allowing that the council was duty bound to consider all effected interests, nevertheless affirmed that, however flawed, it was the prerogative of an elected body to determine what was the public good, not the courts.

Coach-Opted — The British Columbia Rapid Transit Company

Although Vancouver passed a by-law prohibiting jitney operations in 1918,  TD Coldicutt continued to operate Blue Funnel Line  until 1923,  when he sold out to the BCER. 

With the buy-out of the Blue Funnel Line, the BCER went into the motor transport business and Coldicutt went into the BCER’s business.  Coldicutt served as traffic superintendent of the British Columbia Rapid Transit Company, a subsidiary of the BCER, until 1925. 

The BCRTCo imported six motor coaches — 5 Fageol safety coaches and 1 White (for trial purposes) — for the New Westminster-Vancouver run pioneered by the Blue Funnel Motor Line.

1924 CH Fageol - Vancouver arrival

Photo above shows arrival of the first two Fageol chassis in Vancouver, May 1924.  CH Fageol is seated in the driver’s seat at left.

The coach bodies were built by Tupper & Steele, a Vancouver manufacturer. Maximum capacity was 26 passengers.1924 BC Rapid Transit Co - Fageol coach

 

"The buses will seat 22 in all and will have in addition a baggage compartment, which will hold four persons, if necessary. In the smoking compartment there will be room for eight persons; in the first-class compartment twelve, and beside the driver two. The inside woodwork will be polished mahogany, while the smoker will be finished in No. 1 grey leather. The first-class compartment will be finished in dove grey velour of the best grade obtainable."

 

Perhaps a concession to  those moral qualms:  "Another feature will be the abundance of illumination, which will provide enough light to read by."Fageol coach - Vancouver - New Westminster - 1924

TD Coldicutt left the BCRTCo in 1925 and started up a motor transport business in Nanaimo, which he operated until 1929.

Late in life Tom Coldicutt developed the Coldicutt Villa resort in White Rock, a part of which is now Coldicutt Park. The Villa was torn down in April 1970 and TD Coldicutt died in June 1970.

Note: A biography of TD Coldicutt—especially pertaining to White Rock — is included in Margaret Lang Hastings, Along the Way.His early career is described in British Columbia From the Earliest Times to the Present v3 Biographical.

Addendum

Google map of Blue Funnel lines - Vancouver to AldergroveScheduled service south of the Fraser — Blue Funnel line stops and fares beyond New Westminster

Open Blue Funnel Line Google Map to view  the routes.

Fares are from Vancouver.

New Westminster 25 cents

Aldergrove line

Aldergrove, Cloverdale and all way points on the Yale Road—
Leave Aldergrove 7:30 am, 8:00 am, 2:00 pm.
Leave Westminster 10:00 am, 4:00 pm, 5:00 pm.

South Port Mann    60 cents
Johnson Road    65
Maple Road    65  
Coast Meridian    75
Clayton Corner    75
Hall’s Prairie Rd    80
Latimer Rd    85
Langley Prairie    85
Murrayville    1 dollar
Biggar Rd        1.10
Livingstone Rd    1.15
Brown Rd        1.25
Otter Rd        1.25
Coghlan Rd    1.25
County Line Rd    1.45
Aldergrove    1.50
"The terminus of this line is Aldergrove, but  we go to other places past and in the  Aldergrove district when required. This line  covers a district and along a route thirty- seven miles in length."

White Rock line
Leave Westminster week days, 10:00 am, 5:00 pm; Saturdays 10:00 am, 1:30 pm 6:00 pm; Sundays 9:am 6:00 pm.
Leave White Rock 7:30 am, 2:30 pm.

South Port Mann     60 cents
Johnson Rd    65
Cloverdale    75
Hazelmere    75
White Rock     1 dollar
Blaine        1.25
"The White Rock car, in the camping  season especially, serves a very pressing  need, as this district is unserved except by  the G.N.R. company and the Blue Funnel."

Boundary Bay line
via New Westminster Bridge, Scott Road,  McLennan (Ladner Trunk Rd) to Ladner,  thence Boundary Bay road to Boundary  Bay.
"This line is through a district absolutely  devoid of street car lines, and is fairly well  patronized at the time of writing."

North of Fraser lines

Port Haney, Port Hammond, Coquitlam and all way points on Dewdney Trunk Road—
Leave Westminster daily at 10:30 am, 1:30 pm, 4:30 pm, 6:00pm.
Leave Port Haney at 8:30 am, 2:30 pm, 4:30 pm.

Port Moody—
Leave Westminster 11:00 am, 2:45 pm, 4:30 pm, 8:00 pm.
Leave Port Moody 10:00 am, 2:00 pm, 3:30 pm, 7:00 pm.

Coquitlam, Essondale and waypoints—
10:00 am and every hour thereafter from both ends.

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