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mon sense and intelligence in dealing with this question, taking in consideration your local conditions, the class of people you are dealing with, and the feeling existing among the public towards your company. With a fair class of population, you can run a gas company in a small town, ask no deposits or guarantees of anyone, and still keep your Bad Debt losses down to remarkably low figures. A very small number of prepayment meters, and a close and constant check on your gas accounts receivable, coupled with intelligent handling of your consumers in all your dealings with them, will produce such results. And again, believe me, you will deserve far greater commendation and will be more valuable to your stockholders if you keep your Bad Debts down by the methods just mentioned, than if you produce such results by arbitrary and indiscriminating demands for deposits and guarantees, and the reckless flourishing of your monkey wrench in the faces of your arrears customers. A policeman who can keep order in a crowd without the use of his club, is a far better and more efficient guardian of the peace than the one who keeps order only by the indiscriminate use of his club or other implements of war. Remember, too, that you take far greater chances when using your clubs than policemen do when using their clubs. We have our clubs but should use them with great reluctance and caution, and only on the severest provocation. If you can not keep order except by excessive use of your clubs, you would better do some introspection and find out whether you are on the right beat, before you blame the crowd you are dealing with.
If a consumer makes a deposit, a proper receipt should be given him, and proper records of same kept in the office. The card record is the best for deposit records, and the deposits remaining in the hands of the company at the end of each month should be listed. After verifying each list with the controlling account in the Ledger, the list should be filed away in a proper place. The listing of the deposits each month will enable you to easily trace any inistake that may be made in the month it occurs. Deposit receipts should be numbered in a book with proper stubs, and issued numerically. Before a deposit is refunded, be sure the consumer owes you no bills. If he does, deduct them from the amount of the deposit. It is better to find out whether
he owes you bills before you refund the deposit, than after you have refunded same. That is, it is better for your Company, and more in accordance with gas etiquette.
A fair rate of interest should be paid on all deposits, whether receipts are lost or not. With some companies the question as to whether interest is paid on deposits is governed entirely by the timidity or bashfulness of the depositor. The depositor who demands the interest receives it. The depositor who does not demand it, receives it-not. Happily such gas companies are very rare. I am ashamed that there are any.
I hold in low esteem the man, and in less esteem, the public service corporation that, is honest only when directly requested to be so.
PREPAYMENT METERS. Prepayment meters are so well known at the present time, that a description of them is unnecessary. A prepayment meter should register gas accurately, and should deliver the correct quantity of gas for the money deposited. It is desirable that the quantity of gas to be delivered for a quarter should be easily changeable by your fitter with no, or very small, expense. It should be easy to increase the quantity to be delivered for a quarter. It is not necessary that you should be able to decrease the quantity, as gas rates always go down and never up. The more difficult it is to extract the money without the formality of using a key, the better for the Company. Still it is difficult to make a prepay meter proof against a burglar's kit or the impact of sledge hammers. It is advisable to use one type of lock and that of the best. Have only as many keys as are necessary and always know that the keys are in proper hands. Read the meters regularly, one man doing the reading, and another man collecting the cash the next day. Be very careful as to the integrity of the man who reads the prepays and collects the money and be careful about the keys. This will assist wonderfully in balancing the cash with the gas used. If you have prepayment meters that can not be set to deliver exactly the amount of gas for a quarter that your gas rate entitles the consumer to, so much the better. Set it at the nearest higher rate.
I strongly advise you to keep a separate account with each prepayment meter in use, showing each month the reading, gas consumption, net amount of bill as per your regular rates, money actually collected, and balance due to either the consumer or the Company. If at any time an individual account shows a balance due the Company, it should be immediately investigated until the cause is discovered. When a consumer quits using gas or has a regular meter set in place of the prepay, this account, if kept as above outlined, will show whether you owe him or he owes you. If you owe him, you will have no trouble in settling with him. If he owes you, the matter is more complicated, and you may have some trouble. When a prepay meter is to be set, a regular prepay application should be signed. This application should contain, besides the clauses of the regular application, clauses whereby the applicant agrees to hold the Company harmless from damage to the meter, and from damage on account of the insertion in his meter of anything else except perfect U. S. 250 pieces. He should also agree to pay to the Company on demand any discrepancy between the money collected and the price of the gas registered as figured at the regular rates. It is well to explain his responsibility in these directions very fully and carefully to each applicant who applies for a prepayment meter.
The introduction of a few prepay meters will create an insistent and fast growing demand for same, and if they are set upon request, you will find that you will soon have a surplus of regular meters not in use.
Unless you are an enthusiast in favor of them, you had better be very careful not to encourage their use. My observation and experience is that prepay meters as a rule reduce the sales per meter. It is true that, where only a small percentage of the meters are prepays, the consumption per meter is usually larger for the small percentage of prepays than for the much larger percentage of regular meters. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that such companies use the prepays largely for transients and unstable consumers in the business district, who are large users of gas and who are unwilling or unable to make the large cash deposit that would be necessary to properly protect the Company.
Personally, I consider the prepayment meters very useful for certain purposes, but with most gas companies their uses are limited, and I do not recommend their extensive use. They have their advantages and disadvantages. They are apt to be a source of danger, although I consider this is usually over-estimated. They produce plenty of work for the complaint man, and the gas company depends largely upon the honesty of the collector as to whether it receives pay for the gas used. A dishonest collector can get away with a lot of money and it is well-nigh impossible to get conclusive proof of his dishonesty. If discrepancies occur between the price of the gas used and money collected, this may be due to a dishonest collector and the Company may innocently get into a hot wrangle with the consumer if it tries to collect the discrepancy from him.
There are certain people that you can not get to consume gas, except by means of a prepayment meter but they are few in number. For such people and for deadbeats and transients, the prepayment meter is valuable to the gas company. But it has not come to my knowledge that in this country at least companies who are using prepayment meters extensively or exclusively, are showing any remarkable sales per meter or per capita, compared with up-to-date companies who are conservative in the use of prepays.
Nor has it come to my notice that the bad debt losses of such companies are lower than with well managed companies who do not use them. It is also a very important fact that the first cost and subsequent maintenance of prepays is much larger than in the case of regular meters. They undoubtedly reduce the complaints of high gas bills, but I have found that consumers with prepays also make work for the complaint clerk. It is quite common to receive a report of poor gas or no gas and on sending out a man at breakneck speed, to find a prepayment meter that needs a quarter as a lubricant. Be very careful to use great circumspection, however, in stating your diagnosis to the consumer, as he will immediately inform you that he put in four quarters yesterday and has hardly used any gas. The fact that you open the money box and show him that there is only one solitary, lonesome beer check occuping the inner recesses of this depository of the gas company, is no convincing argument for him. He put in four quarters yesterday and it is none of his business where they have gone to. The prepayment meter is only another instrument in
vented by the grasping gas monopoly to reap where it sows not. Having gotten you to this critical position in your friendly argument with your prepayment consumer, I regret that I have not the space to stay with you and report your final arbitration with him.
To the Gas Manager who is interested in numismatics, the prepay meter is also useful. It often collects in a spasmodic manner it is true, but still it collects, various coins that are rarely met with in the regular channels of trade. Although designed to receive only U. S. 250 pieces of first-class quality, prepayment meters are apt to bring forth two-cent pieces, twenty-cent pieces, beer checks, cigar checks, pennies, dimes, lead disks, paper wads, counterfeit Canadian quarters, Hawaiian quarters and other curios of widely divergent nature. Oftentimes, an absentminded consumer will deposit a quarter in the meter, and afterwards feel sorry he did not spend it for beer, cigars or other necessities of life.
Thus repenting, he will immediately seize upon the nearest implement and proceed to coax the meter into coughing up the quarter so thoughtlessly deposited in its cold, gassy interior. The meter proving obdurate and unresponsive to gentle coaxing, the ire of the customer is aroused and he assails the gas company's defenceless representative with constantly increasing wrath, to the great detriment of the meter mechanism.
The prepayment meter also presents certain disadvantages to the users that usually affect the company as well. Improvident people receive their pay on Saturday and in a few days the cash is gone. They can not buy gas for credit, so they use coal, wood, kerosene or gasoline which they can and do buy on credit. A' citizen goes home at night, settles down to read the paper and at 8:30 p. m. the gas gives fair warning of its intention to strike unless proper lubrication is forthcoming. The citizen finds that due to these prosperous times, he has no coins on hand of less than $20.00 denominations. He may have some dimes or dollars but they are useless. He does not like to run around asking the neighbors for a quarter, so he either retires in the dark, lights up a candle or kerosene lamp, or switches on the electric light—all to the positive detriment of the gas company who needs the money.