Friday, June 17, 2011

The Rise and Fall of the Electric Street Car Part II: The Beginning of the End

The success of the electric street car was short-lived. The Great Depression forced many routes in United States to close. There was a brief life-line for the electric trolley during the Second World War when rubber and gas were rationed and factory workers turned to mass transit. Production of wartime materials limited the possible of growth (from 1942-1943 there was little change in the total number of cities with electric street cars). However, the end of the war brought and increase in automobile use and a decline in street car use to the already struggling street car lines. By the 1960s the electric street car could only be found in a hand full of cities across North America.Growth and decline of the Electric Streetcar. Solid red area is number of cities with an electric streetcar in operation; transparent red area represents possible cities (for lack of complete records) that may have been in operation.

Service provided by the electric street car was most often replaced by buses which were seen as more flexible and requiring less infrastructure than the electric rail counterpart. This shift from electric trolley to bus has led many to believe that a union of automobile, oil, and tire companies was responsible for the dismantling of what otherwise appeared to be a productive public utility.

The possibility of a conspiracy against the electric streetcar is at least likely given the circumstances publicly known. In 1949, General Motors together with Standard Oil (now Cheveron) and Firestone were convicted of conspiring to monopolize the sale of buses and related products to local transit authorities. The goals of this group were to promote the use and sale of buses, tires and gasoline: three things not needed in cites with electric streetcars. Therefore the use of such a transit system often came at the cost of reduced or complete dismantling of electric street car routes.

< Part 1

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