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Who Killed the Streetcars? — Carectomy - Removing Cars from People

Who Killed the Streetcars?

by Joshua Liberles on December 10, 2007

deadSTREETcar Who Killed the Streetcars?

About.com does a great job of answering part of the question in the must-read article The Great American Streetcar Scandal. It’s a great primer on how General Motors, with the help of corporate giants Standard Oil, Firestone Tire, Mack Truck, and Phillips Petroleum were instrumental in dismantling the nation’s elaborate streetcar system and building up the nation’s highway infrastructure.

According to About, in the 1920’s most people traveled by trolley and streetcar; one in ten were automobile owners. 88% of people polled after World War II wanted the streetcar lines expanded. GM, however, had other ideas.
 

From About.com:

GM first replaced trolleys with free-roaming buses, eliminating the need for tracks embedded in the street and clearing the way for cars. As dramatized in a 1996 PBS docudrama, Taken for a Ride, Alfred P. Sloan, GM’s president at the time, said, “We’ve got 90 percent of the market out there that we can…turn into automobile users. If we can eliminate the rail alternatives, we will create a new market for our cars.” And they did just that, with the help of GM subsidiaries Yellow Coach and Greyhound Bus. Sloan predicted that the jolting rides of buses would soon lead people to not want them and to buy GM’s cars instead.

Sounds a lot like GM’s behind the scenes work to bury the electric car – a tale revealed to great effect by the recent documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?

But Public Transportation ridership is on the upswing. Fed up with traffic, pollution, and hassle, public transportation use in the U.S. has risen 21% since 1995 according to the Public Transportation Partnership for Tomorrow.

 
Photo via flickr by Mike Wood Photography

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Gavin Hogland November 26, 2009 at 2:01 am

The about.com article is wrong. Snell’s rants about the death of the streetcar were dismissed at the time he testified before congress. POV was foolish for not investigating his claims. Basically streetcars died out because they were expensive to build, inflexible with respect to routing and ultimately were less cost effective than buses not to mention that by the 1950s far more people preferred to just drive their cars. As a transportation system they simply had been passed up by newer methods. I would suggest people read some of the links located on this page:
http://bicycleuniverse.info/transpo/takenforaride.html

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