Tonight Caleb invited Daniel and I over to watch a movie I'd heard a lot about, called Taken For A Ride
. It's not so much a movie as an hour-long documentary. Anyway, even though I'd heard many of the basic facts of the subject (the conspiracy engineered by GM to do away with mass transit), I found myself once again staring with jaw-dropping awe as archival footage, interviews, vintage propaganda, news footage, etc. showed the evidence.
Here is the main thrust of the thing:
In the early 20s, General Motors looked at America and said, "Only 1 in 10 people have a car. Everybody else rides trains. That's 9 in 10 people we need to sell cars to. If things stay like this, though, with people happy riding trolleys, it's going to make our job a lot harder."
So what did GM do? Well, being GM and having a hell of a lot of cash, lots of connections, and a ton of cunning, they launched a pretty massive operation, nationwide, to destroy the nation's streetcar system. One major step in this was to go and buy up streetcar companies (all private at the time) and then quickly destroy them. They'd come in, start reducing service, which would reduce ridership, which reduces service, then cut routes, and then say, "Oh, this doesn't work anymore! Let's replace all the trolleys with buses!" Which worked great because GM also set up a big dummy corporatoin that ran bus lines. People didn't like the buses nearly as much as the streetcars (they get caught in traffic, aren't on time, smell, and pollute), but once GM & its friends had got rid of the streetcars, people either 1) had to get cars or 2) deal with it. It wound up most people got cars, except poor people who wound up with lousy bus service.
Nobody wanted to get rid of public transit -- nobody except these mega corporations who were looking out for number one. They systematically destroyed a nationwide public utility system, available even in small towns, that had been designed for the most efficient, cost-effective, democratic movement of people, basically to eliminate their competition. And once people were in cars and transit had been attacked like that, it was hard to get people back because the systems weren't what they used to be. Plus by then people had moved to the suburbs (supported by cars), where transit doesn't work. Mass transit has been making a comeback since the 70s and in some American cities there are even streetcars (nowadays called "light rail"), but the blow General Motors struck in the 20s-50s was crippling. And they never got punished.
A couple additional interesting notes on this documentary:
1) After WWII the US was at a crossroads: Repair and expand streetcar systems that got worn out from heavy ridership in the war years, or ditch them and build highways. Guess what happened? Meanwhile Japan and Europe opted for building streetcar and other mass transit systems, many of which are happily running today.
2) All three of us noticed how in the movie's clips of the Men of Power, i.e. politicians in the pocket of the auto industry and GM shills, all reminded us of Dubya. I think the tie in is the fact that they could make ridiculous statements with a straight face and/or outright lie without twitching.