High speed rail is good. It is very good. But why did we let General Motors destroy the excellent public transportaion system we had in all our cities and all our rural areas for many decades?
From the turn of the 20th century up until the mid 1960s every city had trolleys, buses, and trains. Few people needed cars, except for family trips. It was a pleasure to take the family on a “Sunday Drive” and most families had only one car. Many families had no car, and were able to meet all their transportation needs with the buses, trolleys, and trains that we had.
But the auto industry wanted to increase sales. They wanted people to have multiple cars. They did not want people to have the convenience of inexpensive public transportion. They wanted people to be dependent on cars alone to get around.
So they started to systematically buy out the small bus lines, and trolley lines and scrap them. After a few years General Motors had bought out many of these small, independent companies and scrapped buses and trolleys in massive numbers. A few years ago 60 Minutes did a story on the hundreds and hundreds of buses and trolleys GM scrapped.
This was also the time period when the Big Three (it was four or five back then) learned that they could condition people to attach their sense of self worth to the vehicles they owned. Cars were not only a means to travel about. They were a means to identify a person’s status, position, and importance to the community. When you bought a car you were not merely purchasing a means to get around. You were purchasing a symbol on which you would be judged by the shallow criteria of the age of advertising.
I can recall the time, in the fifties and sixties, when it became a shameful thing to admit that you did not have a car, and had to rely on buses, trolleys, and trains, which became increasingly unavailable. In the meantime, car sales skyrocketed, and we morphed into a society where families had multiple vehicles. This is exactly what the auto industry wanted us to become. What could be better for sales than a society who had few transportation options other than a car? Better yet, use planned obselescence to make sure the cars began to break down after the warranty expired, and people would opt to buy new cars more often.
The old cliche says what goes around comes around, and it certainly is applicable to the auto industry. They helped eliminate transportation options, built cars that fell apart after only a few years, made us totally dependent on their product, and made untold billions doing it. Now we will have to spend billions restoring a public transportation system that our grandparents enjoyed. Did someone say ironic?
Here is a question from out in left field. How about if we take back all the money we threw away on the auto industry and rebuild the public transportation system that Detroit dismantled? Anyone for a high speed train bailout?