THE magazine of railroading

SEARCH TRAINSMAG.COM

Enter keywords or a search phrase below:

The Conspiracy to Destroy Pubic Transit in America

9785 views
82 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    August, 2012
  • 3,727 posts
The Conspiracy to Destroy Pubic Transit in America
Posted by John WR on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 3:20 PM

Most of us have heard the story of how America once had trolley cars, a system of electric street railways that provided cheap and efficient transportation to almost any place a person would want to go.  That system, according to the story, was destroyed by a group of businessmen in order to increase their own profits by requiring the American people to buy cars.  Up to now I have regarded this as an urban legend. However Stephen B. Goddard in a well researched and footnoted book, Getting There, has shown that it is all too true.  

Chapter 7, Derailing the Trolleys, is where Goddard explains it.  In the late 19th century most electric street railways were built by companies that produced electricity and needed a place to sell it.  As time went on home uses of electricity made their industry more successful.  In the 1920's government regulation increasingly encumbered their trolley operations while vehicles with gasoline engines were unregulated and paid minimal taxes.  Streetcar systems began to loose money but they continued to operate, subsidized by the lucrative home electricity market and unable to cut back on their routes or increase their fares because of government regulators.  

In Minnesota a man who owned a family operated bus company, Roy Fitzgerald, saw an opportunity.  He began to use his unregulated buses to compete with streetcars offering lower fares.  His success came to the attention of General Motors.  GM had expanded it automobile manufacturing operations and was also building buses.  GM, Firestone, Standard Oil of California, Mack and Phillips Petroleum organized to loan money to new bus lines such as National City Lines, American City Lines and others all organized by Fitzgerald.   Of course the new bus companies had to purchase buses and supplies from the companies that provided the cash to buy out the trolley lines.  The money was not to be made in operating public transit; it was to be made in selling buses, tires and the petroleum products needed to operate the system.  However, their success was limited because many electric companies were reluctant to sell their streetcar operations.  Then, in 1935, the Rayburn-Wheeler Act was passed which forced the electric companies to divest themselves of electric street railways.  Fitzgerald, with the backing of the above companies, was able a great many trolley lines.  The trolley cars were scrapped and replaced with buses.  All of this was in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act for for whatever reason the government ignored that until the late 1940's when it filed and won a law suit against the companies that had destroyed the trolley lines.  They were convicted of "concocting and implementing a criminal conspiracy" but got off with very light fines.  

Meanwhile the bus companies, when they began losing money, were sold to the municipalities they served.  And the public got to pay for buses which last at most 20 years while streetcars last for much longer periods of time.  For example, New Orleans still uses Perly Thomas cars which were build in the middle 1920's and have been operated continuously since they were purchased.  And the streetcars cost less to operate.  

Here in the US we like to think the success of the automobile is based solely on its popularity with the public.  However, while the automobile is popular, it was also pushed on us by a large automobile manufactures and its co-conspirators.  And we are all poorer because of it.

  • Member since
    December, 2001
  • 8,106 posts
Posted by henry6 on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 3:38 PM

To us older guys this is not news...we've read of the trials of the late 40's and 50's where GM, AMACO, and the tire companies were in court defending their monopolistic actions.  But the result of their actions were too imbued on the populace to turn around and go back.  

But today, I think there is a rethinking of the problem and the process as more and more new light rail and commuter lines emerge.  Environmental problems, land availability and use, the preciousness of fuel sources and its rising costs, traffic jams, and people getting tired of driving and stopping and driving and driving more and more because home is often removed so much from their place of work: these are all reasons why I feel that public transportation is facing not so much a rebirth as a reconstruction and renaissance. 

RIDEWITHMEHENRY will plan and escort railfan rides in and around the NY Metropolitan and Philadephia areas: no mode of transportation is untouched. Guaranteed railfan fun!

  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: US
  • 6,808 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 4:19 PM

What goes around, comes around - the more things change the more they stay the same.

Read history and you will find that everything that is taking place today, has taken place in the past - only the names and the technologies have changed.

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

  • Member since
    August, 2012
  • 3,727 posts
Posted by John WR on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 4:41 PM

I sure hope you are right, Henry, and we are seeing a rebirth of public transit.  I am lucky enough to live in a state with a relatively good transit system and I have been using it for many years.  New Jersey Transit has done some very good things, especially with our rail transit.  However, our bus system is treated like a step child, ignoring new development which simply goes without any transit at all.  For example, Mercer Hospital (which used to be in Trenton) was served by a bus every half hour from 5 am to midnight.  Recently it was moved to a suburban location in Hopewell Township.  Now it has no transit at all.  So I remain somewhat skeptical.  

PS.  I live between Newark and Paterson so what I see is not typical.  I think you live in or near Binghamton.  What kind of transit is out your way?

  • Member since
    August, 2012
  • 3,727 posts
Posted by John WR on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 4:43 PM

Actually, Balt, I do read history more than I read anything else.  Most of my reading about trains is history as well as biography.  Recently I read Maury Klein's The Life and Legend of E. H. Harriman.  I agree with you that human nature has not changed but technology has changed.  A lot.  

PS.  When, in the Bible, Esau sold his birth right he at least got a "mess of pottage" (bowl of red lentil stew) in return.  The men who stole our streetcar systems didn't even give us that.

  • Member since
    December, 2007
  • From: Southeast Michigan
  • 1,161 posts
Posted by Norm48327 on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 5:28 PM

Like Henry6 I am old enough to remember the elaborate street car and inter-urban system in the Detroit area that lasted till  about 1950.

There is no doubt in my mind that the automobile and other self propelled transportation killed them off. When cars became common and affordable and roads began to develop people wanted to move out of the crowded cities into what then was "the woods" and is now suburbia.There was not enough population in those areas to support public transportation so streetcar companies did not follow them.

Some of the major American cities are seeing a resurgence in light rail; and rightly so. It can alleviate those eternal and boring drives home from work. Good public transit may again become a reality in the future.

Norm

If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.

  • Member since
    December, 2001
  • From: Denver / La Junta
  • 7,393 posts
Posted by mudchicken on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 5:33 PM

The problem is "good" public transportation. An awful lot of the transportation planners and transit operators are a joke (no concept of what they are doing. Bus people in charge of light rail creates some massive FAILs.

Mudchicken Nothing is worth taking the risk of losing a life over. Come home tonight in the same condition that you left home this morning in. Safety begins with ME.... cinscocom-west
  • Member since
    December, 2001
  • From: Northern New York
  • 13,321 posts
Posted by tree68 on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 6:13 PM

Perhaps the biggest problem with streetcar systems was their physical inflexibility.

While a bus line can easily alter a route to accomodate a new apartment complex or other such facility, a trolley is married to its tracks.

Another problem was the growth of the suburbs into centers of commerce all of their own.  A spoke-and-hub streetcar system handled folks travelling from the 'burbs into the central city just fine.  But when it came to travelling to the town next door, or several 'burbs over, they were that much less practical, requiring a trip downtown and a transfer to another line out of the city.  Driving direct was much easier.

Still, it's interesting to consider what might have been had PE and all the other systems continued to exist.

LarryWhistling
Resident Microferroequinologist (at least at my house) 
Everyone goes home; Safety begins with you
My Opinion. Standard Disclaimers Apply. No Expiration Date
Come ride the rails with me!
There's one thing about humility - the moment you think you've got it, you've lost it...

  • Member since
    August, 2012
  • 3,727 posts
Posted by John WR on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 6:26 PM

Norm,

Certainly there is no doubt as as automobiles became more popular the demand for public transit waned. But I must disagree that public demand for cars led to the demise of street cars.  

After all, while public transit did decline it never went away entirely and it still operates.  When it became unprofitable government entities took it over.  But without GM and the rest of the conspirators government might have taken over trolley systems with usable and long lived cars that cost must less to operate than buses.  Instead it had to take over bus systems where buses are replaced every 12 years, cost more to operate and cause pollution as they travel along.  

I'm not personally familiar with transit in Detroit.  I do know that some cities did choose to keep their street cars.  For example, Washington DC had street cars until the subway was built.  Philadelphia still has them.  Yet both of those cities have a lot of cars too.

John

  • Member since
    August, 2012
  • 3,727 posts
Posted by John WR on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 6:35 PM

Chicken,  

The problem that I see in my state is that, while we have an over all good system, many areas--especially new ones--have no transit at all of any kind.  

John

  • Member since
    December, 2001
  • 8,106 posts
Posted by henry6 on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 6:44 PM

tree68

Perhaps the biggest problem with streetcar systems was their physical inflexibility.

While a bus line can easily alter a route to accomodate a new apartment complex or other such facility, a trolley is married to its tracks.

Another problem was the growth of the suburbs into centers of commerce all of their own.  A spoke-and-hub streetcar system handled folks travelling from the 'burbs into the central city just fine.  But when it came to travelling to the town next door, or several 'burbs over, they were that much less practical, requiring a trip downtown and a transfer to another line out of the city.  Driving direct was much easier.

Still, it's interesting to consider what might have been had PE and all the other systems continued to exist.

tree68

Perhaps the biggest problem with streetcar systems was their physical inflexibility.

While a bus line can easily alter a route to accomodate a new apartment complex or other such facility, a trolley is married to its tracks.

Another problem was the growth of the suburbs into centers of commerce all of their own.  A spoke-and-hub streetcar system handled folks travelling from the 'burbs into the central city just fine.  But when it came to travelling to the town next door, or several 'burbs over, they were that much less practical, requiring a trip downtown and a transfer to another line out of the city.  Driving direct was much easier.

Still, it's interesting to consider what might have been had PE and all the other systems continued to exist.

We are a very manipulative and manipulated society.  A straight line inflexible streetcar line could have been designed, marketed and sold to the public.  Look what all we have accepted by the marketers: Jello, Vanna White, the NFL, Rock and Roll, Pat Boone, Madonna, a two party political system, Big Macs,  bigger anything is better except for wireless communication's hardware, the freedom you have owning and driving your own cars(s), the internet, wrestling as a sport, 1000 channel tv reception.  So if we've accepted any or all of those things, and the many other things we use and buy everyday, then a logical, safe, reliable,  environmentally friendly, inexpensive transportation system is within the range of our believing and buying.

RIDEWITHMEHENRY will plan and escort railfan rides in and around the NY Metropolitan and Philadephia areas: no mode of transportation is untouched. Guaranteed railfan fun!

  • Member since
    August, 2012
  • 3,727 posts
Posted by John WR on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 6:54 PM

Trees,  

You make two interesting points.  It is true that streetcar tracks are inflexible and cannot easily be changed.  However, this also has certain advantages.  If the apartment complex builders, for example, consider where the street car runs when they build their complex they can be reasonable sure that the route will not suddenly be changed and leave them in the cold as can happen with bus routes.  That actually happened to me.  I had a condition that required me to see my doctor every month.  A bus route ran right by her office; it was great.  But after a few months and with only 10 days notice and no opportunity for public input the route was suddenly changed.  Now I had to take a different bus and had to walk more than a half hour after I got off of it.  Other people also used the stop by by doctor's office; I don't know what happened to them.  

As far as new centers of growth, certainly buses have their place in any transit system.  What I believe in and advocate for is transportation diversity.  Transportation is not a one size fits all situation.  I agree with you that there are places where private vehicles do make sense and are the only thing that makes sense.  But I think it is fair to point our that large parts of our suburbs have been built for cars only with no consideration given to public transit.  Today we are living longer and most of us want to stay in our homes.  So what happens when we are quite able to keep up with our homes but can no longer drive and there is no public transit.  Do we go to a nursing home just because we cannot drive our cars?

John

  • Member since
    January, 2003
  • From: Kenosha, WI
  • 5,595 posts
Posted by zardoz on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 7:09 PM

henry6

Look what all we have accepted by the marketers: Jello, Vanna White, the NFL, Rock and Roll, Pat Boone, Madonna, a two party political system, Big Macs,  bigger anything is better except for wireless communication's hardware, the freedom you have owning and driving your own cars(s), the internet, wrestling as a sport, 1000 channel tv reception.

What's wrong with Vanna White? I think she looks darn nice, especially if you factor in her age; plus she is rather active in various charities.

  • Member since
    October, 2006
  • From: Allentown, PA
  • 7,723 posts
Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 8:03 PM

For a contrary view, see this article:

"Did a conspiracy really kill the streetcar? - It wasn't National City Lines that did it"
by Diers, John
from Trains, January 2006,  p. 56

 It might also be informative to review the articles by Prof. of Economics George W. Hilton. 

Also, it's pretty well settled that many streetcar lines were built by land developers to facilitate access to - and hence to increase the value and selling price of - their new neighborhoods, suburbs, towns, and even amusement parks, etc. further out.  In economic terms, that is called "exploitation of the land", and is not a negative connotation.  As such, though, the streetcar lines were intended to be mere transportation tools to achieve a greater end, not as a 'profit-making center' of their own.

For example, see this recent (Nov. 23, 2012) feature - "Prospering Public Transportation" - from "Living on Earth", a Public Radio International program styled as an environmental newsmagazine:

 http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=12-P13-00047&segmentID=3 

A pertinent excerpt from "Christopher Leinberger, a George Washington University transportation researcher" (emphasis added - PDN): 

"LEINBERGER: Transportation, whether it be roads or rail transit, or bike lanes, have always been subsidized. . . .

And I’m suggesting, and Locus is suggesting, and a lot of developers are suggesting that we need to learn from how we used to build our transit systems 100 years ago. This country 100 years ago had the finest rail transit system on the planet. And the vast majority of it was paid for by real estate developers, and it’s not as if the economics were different then than now – those rail transit systems, those trollies, those subways in New York, lost money. So why did developers build them?

They built them to get their customers out to their land, so land profits subsidized the transit, and that’s what we’re proposing with value capture as well. Value capture is capturing the value that’s created by transportation improvements. And it’s not as if you can just assume that developers are just going to pay for it all, that’s not going to happen."

- Paul North. 

"This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)
  • Member since
    April, 2003
  • 282,456 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 9:21 PM

Paul_D_North_Jr

It might also be informative to review the articles by Prof. of Economics George W. Hilton. 

Also, it's pretty well settled that many streetcar lines were built by land developers to facilitate access to - and hence to increase the value and selling price of - their new neighborhoods, suburbs, towns, and even amusement parks, etc. further out.  In economic terms, that is called "exploitation of the land", and is not a negative connotation.  As such, though, the streetcar lines were intended to be mere transportation tools to achieve a greater end, not as a 'profit-making center' of their own.

 

"LEINBERGER: Transportation, whether it be roads or rail transit, or bike lanes, have always been subsidized. . . .

And I’m suggesting, and Locus is suggesting, and a lot of developers are suggesting that we need to learn from how we used to build our transit systems 100 years ago. This country 100 years ago had the finest rail transit system on the planet. And the vast majority of it was paid for by real estate developers, and it’s not as if the economics were different then than now – those rail transit systems, those trollies, those subways in New York, lost money. So why did developers build them?

They built them to get their customers out to their land, so land profits subsidized the transit, and that’s what we’re proposing with value capture as well. Value capture is capturing the value that’s created by transportation improvements. And it’s not as if you can just assume that developers are just going to pay for it all, that’s not going to happen."

- Paul North. 

I think that economics were much different then from what they are now.   Now, transit is truly subsidized as public sector entity.  It seems like George Hilton and Christopher Leinberger are dancing on the head of a pin to reach a torturous conclusion that the trollies and interubans of a 100 years ago lost money and were subsidized because they were not a profit making center of their own, but rather, were a necessary component of a profit making venture. 

If they were a necessary component of a profit making venture, then they too were a profit making part of that venture.  It is really a stretch to conclude that the profit of the profit center subsidized the non-profit nature of the transit system that was essential to make the profit making center work.

To say that land profits subsidized the transit may be true in a sense of accounting for a particular business venture, but it is not analogous to the public sector subsidizing transit.   

  • Member since
    September, 2001
  • From: US
  • 1,008 posts
Posted by RudyRockvilleMD on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 9:52 PM

Washington, DC lost its streetcars in the early 1960's well before the first Metro line was opened.

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • From: California
  • 2,823 posts
Posted by DSchmitt on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 10:17 PM

Bucyrus

 

If they were a necessary component of a profit making venture, then they too were a profit making part of that venture.  It is really a stretch to conclude that the profit of the profit center subsidized the non-profit nature of the transit system that was essential to make the profit making center work.

To say that land profits subsidized the transit may be true in a sense of accounting for a particular business venture, but it is not analogous to the public sector subsidizing transit.   

Once the profits were made from the land developement, the dervelopers moved on.  The street car lines were cut loose to survive on there own, which they could not do without subsidies. They could not pay their way from the farebox.  Many did not survive more than a year or two after the last lot was sold. 

Roads were improved due to public demand , autos were improved and became less expensive (thankyou Henry). The auto came to provide more convienent, faster, and affordable transportation to more and more people. 

There is an interesting article "Did a Conspiracy Really Kill the Streetcar?" in Jan 2006 Trains Magazine.

I tried to sell my two cents worth, but no one would give me a plug nickel for it.

  • Member since
    August, 2003
  • From: Antioch, IL
  • 2,911 posts
Posted by greyhounds on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 10:33 PM

Facts don't make a dent in a conspiracy theory.  People love such theories so.

Why is it so hard for people to accept the fact that busses were superior to streetcars for urban tansit systems?   Busses required no special infrastructure, could pull over to the curb when loading/unloading (a real big deal), and were much more flexible.  They incurred much lower fixed costs than streetcars.

Of course, if the dang government would have stayed out of it in 1935 things might have played out differently.  But come on, virtually every city in the US didn't go over to busses due to a conspiracy.  The busses were just a better vehicle for their transit systems.

Have fun with your conspiracy theory.  I'll stick with reality.

"By many measures, the U.S. freight rail system is the safest, most efficient and cost effective in the world." - Federal Railroad Administration, October, 2009. I'm just your average, everyday, uncivilized howling "anti-government" critic of mass government expenditures for "High Speed Rail" in the US. And I'm gosh darn proud of that.
Moderator
  • Member since
    November, 2008
  • From: London ON
  • 9,935 posts
Posted by blownout cylinder on Thursday, November 29, 2012 12:00 AM

In 1915 an attempt was made at establishing an interurban rail transit system between Woodstock ON and  Ingersoll ON with stops long the way...that one did not last past 1918. OOPS.

Any argument carried far enough will end up in Semantics--Hartz's law of rhetoric Emerald. Leemer and Southern The route of the Sceptre Express Barry

I just started my blog site...more stuff to come...

http://modeltrainswithmusic.blogspot.ca/

  • Member since
    December, 2001
  • From: Burbank IL (near Clearing)
  • 8,101 posts
Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Thursday, November 29, 2012 10:06 AM

The alleged conspiracy loses its credibility when you consider that the conversion from streetcar to bus involved a lot more systems than the operations taken over by National City Lines.  The Chicago Transit Authority began receiving an order of 600 PCC cars placed by Chicago Surface Lines just as the population began to move to the suburbs and ridership plummeted.  CTA was lucky and was able to trade in the streetcars for PCC rapid transit equipment.  Other operators saw the handwriting on the wall and did not purchase streetcars that they wouldn't need.

Paul The commute to work may be part of the daily grind, but I get two train rides a day out of it.
  • Member since
    November, 2003
  • From: Rhode Island
  • 1,880 posts
Posted by carnej1 on Thursday, November 29, 2012 11:23 AM

 When looking at the issue of streetcar conversion to buses it is also important to note that in urban areas that kept such systems inevitably the transit operation became part of a public agency rather than staying a private company(as did Most Munical bus systems later on). It seems hard to make the case that private ownership of such operations by a for profit company and the electric utilities that historically were major owner/operators of electric rail transit systems would have eventually wanted to divest themselves of these and focus on their core activities.

 So basically I'm contending that without the alleged conspiracy the streetcars would have disappeared anyway,in most locales..... 

"I Often Dream of Trains"-From the Album of the Same Name by Robyn Hitchcock

  • Member since
    January, 2001
  • From: Atlanta
  • 8,570 posts
Posted by oltmannd on Thursday, November 29, 2012 12:20 PM

Paul_D_North_Jr

A pertinent excerpt from "Christopher Leinberger, a George Washington University transportation researcher" (emphasis added - PDN): 

"LEINBERGER: Transportation, whether it be roads or rail transit, or bike lanes, have always been subsidized. . . .

And I’m suggesting, and Locus is suggesting, and a lot of developers are suggesting that we need to learn from how we used to build our transit systems 100 years ago. This country 100 years ago had the finest rail transit system on the planet. And the vast majority of it was paid for by real estate developers, and it’s not as if the economics were different then than now – those rail transit systems, those trollies, those subways in New York, lost money. So why did developers build them?

They built them to get their customers out to their land, so land profits subsidized the transit, and that’s what we’re proposing with value capture as well. Value capture is capturing the value that’s created by transportation improvements. And it’s not as if you can just assume that developers are just going to pay for it all, that’s not going to happen."

This is exactly the point!  In the auto age, the land developers got smart....They got the government to build roads out to where they had tilled the soil, ready to build suburban housing.

Nothing's really changed.  A while back, the charge for a suburban commuter line in Atlanta was being led by a RE developer whose project were smack in the middle of the route.  How noble of him!

Many transit projects get pitched as redevelopment projects.  The Atlanta Streetcar and Beltline are good examples.  The benefits come from the revitalization of the land around the route more than for the transportation they provide, pollution they mitigate or congestion they relieve.

If you draw the control volume for these projects around all of that, you wind up with a net "win".  If you draw it just around the transportation function of the transit line, you get "lose."  That's why the right and left get so sideways with each other over these projects.  They are taking different points of view as their starting point.  

-Don (Random stuff, mostly about trains - what else? http://blerfblog.blogspot.com/

  • Member since
    January, 2001
  • From: Atlanta
  • 8,570 posts
Posted by oltmannd on Thursday, November 29, 2012 12:23 PM

CSSHEGEWISCH

The alleged conspiracy loses its credibility when you consider that the conversion from streetcar to bus involved a lot more systems than the operations taken over by National City Lines.  The Chicago Transit Authority began receiving an order of 600 PCC cars placed by Chicago Surface Lines just as the population began to move to the suburbs and ridership plummeted.  CTA was lucky and was able to trade in the streetcars for PCC rapid transit equipment.  Other operators saw the handwriting on the wall and did not purchase streetcars that they wouldn't need.

The failure of rail transit in the cities probably had more to do with construction of highways and the flight to the suburbs than bus conversion.  Does anyone really believe people moved out to the suburbs in the 50s because their streetcar line was converted to buses?

BTW, nobody was complaining about moving to the suburbs. It was PROGRESS!

-Don (Random stuff, mostly about trains - what else? http://blerfblog.blogspot.com/

  • Member since
    May, 2004
  • 4,034 posts
Posted by tatans on Thursday, November 29, 2012 12:31 PM

Up here in Canadaland cities are expanding the LRT (bigger-streetcars) they cost piles of money but move a mass of people, Toronto (the centre of the Universe) saw the bus monopoly coming and went south to the U.S. and snapped up piles of relatively new street cars from cities that were abandoning them for buses, they must have got some good deals as they are now expanding their routes, these are streetcars not LRT systems.

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • From: California
  • 2,823 posts
Posted by DSchmitt on Thursday, November 29, 2012 12:37 PM

In Los Angeles the Pacific Electric was converting some lines to bus even before they completed building their rail system.   After taking over the PE, National City Lines actually bought rail equipment to upgrade some lines at the same time they converted other lines to bus.   The final bus conversion of  the PE inturbans ("Red Cars") and the bus conversion of the cities narrow gauge street car system ("Yellow Cars") was done by the government with popular support from the public. 

 

A side note: It has been postulated  that part of the reason the Watts Riots occured is that the service provided by the bus system that replaced the PE interurbans was so poor that many Watts residents lost their jobs due to difficulity getting to work.

I tried to sell my two cents worth, but no one would give me a plug nickel for it.

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • From: California
  • 2,823 posts
Posted by DSchmitt on Thursday, November 29, 2012 12:48 PM

oltmannd


The failure of rail transit in the cities probably had more to do with construction of highways and the flight to the suburbs than bus conversion.  Does anyone really believe people moved out to the suburbs in the 50s because their streetcar line was converted to buses?

BTW, nobody was complaining about moving to the suburbs. It was PROGRESS!

Prior to the 50's street car lines were built by suburb developers to promote their developments by  providing "good transportation to the city cente"r.  After moving to the suburbs many people found that the did not need to go downtown very often and those that did need to go downtown often,  found that the automobile served them better.

In San Francisco: Before 1920 there was a parking lot where commuters left  their cars and caught the streetcars to downtown.  It was located at the intersection of Market Street and Haight Street.  It's practically downtown.  When I lived on Haight 1/2 block from the lot location, I used to regulary walk through downtown to/from my job at the Transbay Terminal.

I tried to sell my two cents worth, but no one would give me a plug nickel for it.

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Somewhere in North Texas
  • 936 posts
Posted by desertdog on Thursday, November 29, 2012 3:34 PM

CERA Bulletin 145, Transit in the Triangle by Hays and Toman provides a good study on the transition from the street car (and interurban) to busses in and around Pittsburgh. Among factors cited: declining ridership after WWII; street reconstruction of benefit only to the growing number of private automobiles; labor issues at a time of serious inflation; the inflexibility of rail vs. rubber and the growing perception that trolleys were outmoded.

John Timm

  • Member since
    April, 2005
  • From: Colorado Springs, CO
  • 3,562 posts
Posted by csmith9474 on Thursday, November 29, 2012 3:54 PM

I have been really impressed with the Front Runner, TRAX, and the UTA as a whole. They seem to have worked really hard in Utah to do this right the first time, and it seems to be paying off. I have heard that the UTA has done really well with its rail service in a fiscal sense (although I have not seen hard numbers myself). We just moved from Colorado Springs in January of this year, and it is absolutely absurd how difficult it has been to get something started in Colorado. I keep hearing tales of intercity service from Cheyenne to Pueblo and how wonderful it will be. Seems the politicians don't want to play ball. From what I understand, "they" want to build a new mainline around Colorado Springs to route freight traffic around the city, and use the existing ROW for the passenger service.

I was also told a few years back by someone at the trolley museum in Colorado Springs that they have been working with the city to get a streetcar service back in town using the PCC cars that they have been hoarding there. If I recall correctly they want to start with a line from downtown Springs, through Old Colorado City, and on into Manitou Springs. That would catch a lot of tourist traffic supposedly.

Smitty
  • Member since
    September, 2007
  • From: Georgetown, Texas
  • 2,737 posts
Posted by Sam1 on Thursday, November 29, 2012 6:17 PM

The decline in public transport came about for many reasons. Villains were involved, i.e. buying up street railways to destroy them and sell buses to the surviving agency, but most of the change came about because of better technologies and higher living standards.

People moved to the suburbs, especially following WWII, for better housing, schools, etc.  And they opted for cars because they are more comfortable, convenient, and flexible.  Most importantly, given the dramatic growth of the U.S. economy following the war, more people could afford a car.  Then two, then three, etc.!

I rode public transit in New York City, Hartford, Dallas, Melbourne, and Austin. I still ride it. Most of my contemporaries don't.  And I can see why.  In a car you don't have to sit next to people who shout into a cell phone, or have not had a bath in a week, or spice their sentences with offensive four letter words. You don't have to put up with snarling bus drivers and transit workers for whom customer service is a foreign object.  

According to National Transportation Statistics, in 2009 (latest complete data) five per cent of Americans used public transit to get to work. This was up from 4.7 per cent in 2001. However, when adjusted for sampling error (the numbers are derived from statistical samples), there has been no real change in the percentage of Americans going to work on public transit since the 1980s and perhaps back to the 70s.

Through DART in Dallas and the T in Fort Worth, North Texans have invested billions in building the largest light rail and commuter bus system in the southwest. Yet, for all the money that has been spent on public transit, the percentage of people in the Metroplex who use it is less than five per cent. Most people don't want to use it, and they won't until driving becomes unaffordable, i.e. economically, timely, frustratingly, etc. 

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • 458 posts
Posted by jclass on Thursday, November 29, 2012 6:19 PM

csmith9474

I have been really impressed with the Front Runner, TRAX, and the UTA as a whole. They seem to have worked really hard in Utah to do this right the first time, and it seems to be paying off. I have heard that the UTA has done really well with its rail service in a fiscal sense (although I have not seen hard numbers myself).

A friend of mine who works for a DC area marketing research firm told me she was involved in a project for the state of Utah this summer.  They were gaging public opinion on future transportation projects in the state.  She said they found little support for Front Runner because "It doesn't go where people want to go."  There was much interest in east-west road building.  Utah transportation routes are decidedly oriented to north-south.  Constrained travel east-west.  

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Trains free email newsletter
NEWS » PHOTOS » VIDEOS » HOT TOPICS & MORE
GET OUR WEEKLY NEWSLETTER DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Connect with us
ON FACEBOOK AND TWITTER

Loading...