Conspiracy and Transit

Anyone who has even a fleeting interest in transportation has undoubtedly heard the story of how General Motors, Standard Oil, and Firestone conspired to buy up streetcar and other electric urban rail systems in order to supplant them with buses. But do we really have GM, et. al. to blame for our abandonment of streetcars and our adoption of the internal combustion engine for all things transport? Martha Bianco, PSU professor in the School of Urban Studies and Planning, has this to say:
The failure of public policy should be assigned as much blame if not more than the machinations of the diesel-bus industry for the substitution of inferior motor buses. It was, after all, the regulatory agencies modernization requirements that contributed to transit companies unmanageable debt load and inability to adapt in a constrained purchasing environment. It was also franchise requirements for service expansion that prompted widespread installation of buses in the first place and that made their continued purchase economical to transit companies in light of their other debts and obligations. Modernization requirements were in many cases the straw that broke the camel's back, forcing transit companies to provide service improvements and extensions that were economically so prohibitive that the companies had no choice but to implement full-scale motorization.

Public policy also encouraged expansion of the automobile industry. The highway planning of this period is the prime example of how public policy continued to accommodate and facilitate the automobile. As far as mass transit was concerned, there was wide consensus that motor buses could easily operate on the great new superhighways; electric streetcars and trolleys could not.
Check out the rest of Bianco's article here.

If you are still not convinced of GM's innocence, check out Cliff Slater's article. Slater, who is not an academic but has an interest in the economic history of public transport in the U.S., has this to say:
The issue is whether or not the buses that replaced the electric streetcars were economically superior. Without GM's interference would the United States today have a viable streetcar system? This article makes the case that, GM or not, under a less onerous regulatory environment, buses would have replaced streetcars even earlier than they actually did.
Check out the rest of Slater's article here.

1 comment:

adron_bh said...

Nice to see someone else tackling the myth of the GM destruction of transit.

For once, they where trying to help. But just as then as is now, their plans are short sighted and not financially reasonable enough to continue.

As for the "policy" as Biano state, I agree whole heartedly. The increasing taxes on the population, the increasing regulations and costs of mass transit agencies, the lack of economical thought of policy makers, the lack...

...anyway, the list is damn long about the unaccountable and proven effects of Government regulation, taxation, and other policies. We could have nothing of the such as we had in the past solely because policy is now heavily slanted, pervesed, and no intention of receding funds and taxation are in the queue to allow the population to actually pay for transportation at full cost again.

It would be a grand thing to see the "policy" and out of pocket "taxes" decrease. It wouldn't bother me a penny to spend $2-6 bucks a Streetcar ride, or $2-15 bucks a ride on the MAX.

I now digress, work calls...