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General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy (wikipedia.org)
11 points by Tomte on May 2, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 4 comments

A couple of fascinating takeaways from this that don't get brought up very often when the conspiracy is mentioned:

- Streetcars were already failing when GM and their cohorts swooped in. They just accelerated the collapse and took advantage of it to enrich themselves. In fact, the reason GM's puppet was able to acquire and shut down all these streetcar companies was because the industry was dying, and the owners of those wanted to sell before the bottom fell out.

- The purpose of the conspiracy was not to promote private car ownership but to replace streetcars with buses, as GM and their cohorts stood to make money hand over fist because they were major players at every level of the supply chain for buses, while none of them were really involved in the supply chain for streetcars.

During the Great Depression the US WPA hired unemployed writers to write travel guides to various US cities. I have a copy of the book for Los Angeles. What I found interesting is how the fabled Pacific Electric "red cars" (the streetcar system of Los Angeles and suburbs) were described. While they are often romanticized and used as a prime example of what GM destroyed, the book describing them in the 1930s wasn't that favorable, mentioning how slow and unreliable they were.

They were also just straight-up replaced by buses.

The main bus lines in the older parts of a good chunk of cities still follow the old streetcar lines.

This leverages a lot of modern political ideas to attempt to understand the past. The streetcar networks got through the war dilapidated from low maintenance because workers and materials were needed for the war effort. People hated the streetcars for being rough and uncomfortable, freezing in cold weather, broiling in heat, forcing all classes and types to squeeze together. The general feeling was that cars and buses on big roads were the future. Why rebuild a decaying streetcar network that no one loved when people preferred roads? Passing this off as conspiracy back in the day would probably get you accused of Communist sympathies.

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