The movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? has always been one of my favorites. One of the key aspect of the story line is a conspiracy to tear down the Red Car Line and replace it with “eight lanes of shimmering cement”. As many of us suspected, there really was a conspiracy to get rid of the streetcar systems.
The Guardian has an excellent article: Los Angeles and the ‘great American streetcar scandal’ that clearly describes what really happened.
Between 1938 and 1950, one company purchased and took over the transit systems of more than 25 American cities. Their name, National City Lines, sounded innocuous enough, but the list of their investors included General Motors, the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, Standard Oil of California, Phillips Petroleum, Mack Trucks, and other companies who stood to benefit much more from a future running on gasoline and rubber than on electricity and rails. National City Lines acquired the Los Angeles Railway in 1945, and within 20 years diesel buses – or indeed private automobiles – would carry all the yellow cars’ former passengers. Does that strike you as a coincidence?
However, government over-regulation also played a part.
All across America, writes Ladd, streetcar transit “had been expected to pay for itself, but after ridership ceased to grow in the 1920s, the private franchises that operated most transit systems were unable to make money under the regulations imposed on them by local governments.”
We need to pay attention to both aspects. Today, we still have large corporations lobbying for benefits for automobile owners, billions of dollars for highway and the over-regulation of mass transit systems. We need to clear the air, in more ways that one, and bring back real, efficient and healthy mass transit.