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Response to Grover1908 (Reply #1)

Wed Dec 18, 2013, 01:51 AM

3. That was part of an overall program to "Improve" Transit.


Basically that Congress also provided local money to various cities (Pittsburgh was one) so that the local government could buy out the local transit operators.

Altoona Pennsylvania was one of the first to do so in 1957-1959, as the private company closed down and said it would NOT re open at the end of its annual two week shut down (Altoona was tied in with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and when that Railroad shut down for two weeks, the city, including its transit system, shut down for the same two weeks). Instead of leaving the private company just shut down and sell off its buses (it had closed down its Streetcar lines in 1954), the City of Altoona and its main Suburb, Logan Township voted to buy it so the buses can keep running.


Altoona never purchased any PCC streetcars and thus could not afford to keep up streetcar service, unlike transit systems that did buy PCC units, which kept running till the 1960s (Johnstown, Altoona sister city on the other side of Allegheny Mountain did buy PCC and kept them running till 1960). Another factor in the case of Altoona was the Pennsylvania Railroad, which never trusted streetcars on the grounds they took away traffic from its rail service (That the over lapp was minimal did not mitigate the lingering view of the Railroad as the Streetcar as a competitor).

Now, in the early 1960s the Federal Government provided funds for local government to take over their privately owned transit systems. All of these systems were losing money, do to the rapid drop off in riders after WWII. At the same time, many people still depended on those transit systems. Thus there was a push to convert such transit systems to public ownership, but that included buying the privately owned transit systems. The Federal Government provided the money, but it was the locals who decided HOW to use that money. Most wanted to convert to buses, for the last Streetcars were built in 1954, but most had been purchased in the 1920s (and by the 1960s long past their service life). Those systems that had purchased post WWII PCC, kept running them for another 30 years, but those systems that had purchased their PCCs prior to WWII had by the 1960s streetcars over 25 years old and nearing the end of their service life.

The system had some value and that was argued over, but the systems were purchased. At that point the transit operators had three choices:

1. Continue to use the Streetcars they had, even of they were at the end of their service life.

2. Buy new Streetcars

3. Replace Streetcars with buses.

Pittsburgh had the largest number of PCC in the nation in the early 1960s, most pre WWII, but a significant number of post WWII PCCs. Pittsburgh first choice was to replace the Streetcars with buses. This was almost all completed by 1967. Most of the post WWII Streetcars were kept for use on the last three lines, for the simple reason buses could NOT replace those lines (In theory buses could, but given each had extensive own private right of way and buses would have to go on the highways these lines avoided, travel time would triple). These lines lingered on till the cars were over 40 years old and replaced as the lines were converted to a LRV system.

Notice, in the 1960s the push was for buses, not streetcars. The push had several interconnecting reasons:

1. State Highway Departments hated anything on its Roads except if it ran on rubber wheels, They disliked Horse and Buggies AND pedestrians in addition to streetcars and the books they were using to design roads reflected this (Pedestrian were classified as "Road Obstructions" for example).

2. General Motors owned GMC Coach and wanted to sell buses, so would lobby Government to buy buses. This included paying for advertisement stressing the advantages of buses over streetcars. GM's marketing techniques could be imaginative, including advertisements on buses over Streetcars, spreading the news of any Streetcar Accident, but suppressing the news of any bus accident. There is even hints at giving away cars to local government officials (through no convictions or even trials not enough evidence to convict anyone).

3. The Streetcar makes had never been that large and could NOT compete with GM when it came to salesmen and salesmanship (and this remain so till the German and other large European and Japanese Streetcar makers entered the market). Yes, I reject the vast conspiracy set forth by Bradford Snell in 1974, but I also believe GM is not innocent, but GM's plans were post WWII, tied in with its ability to finance its own buses, while most Streetcar Users had to find outside finance, during a period of severe credit shortage (For example, the Federal Government to address the Credit Crisis of the late 1940s forbade installment sales on cars longer then 18 months, it was THAT bad post WWII).

4. NIMTOF - Not In My Term Of Office. Buses last about 12 years, streetcars 30 (maybe longer, electrical drive are easy to replace compared to an internal combustion engine, transmission and drive train). Buses are also cheaper then Streetcars. Not In My Term Of Office comes up for if someone is in office 30 years, that office holder will prefer Streetcars, they tend to be cheaper over a 30 year period. On the other hand buses are cheaper up front, thus for most Politicians whose office is only 4 years or less, buses look like a way to keep the budget down during that person's time in office, even if it cost the public more long term.


5. Most people want to get from point A to Point B, in many situations that can be done by a bus or streetcar. The real question is the cost.

6. The Streetcar push of the 1890s to 1920 was driven by housing developers who opened new suburbs for the upper middle class (The top 10% but stretching down to include the top 40% of the population). It is only after WWII that the bottom 60% of urban residence adopted the car, and then that was in preference to walking to work NOT the streetcar). By the 1920s this same group (top 10%) was embracing cars and abandoning Streetcars (and complaining that Streetcars stopping every block was causing traffic jams). The vast majority of Urban Residents did NOT embrace the car till the 1950s. This turned any mass transit operation from a thing for the upper 10% to something for the lowest 10%, with only a brief stop in regards to the 80% of the people between those two groups. Thus you had a massive drop off in transit use post WWII, as the middle 80% switch to the Automobile from Walking and taking Mass Transit to work.

7. Thus by the 1950s Streetcars and buses were viewed as things the poor used and thus subject to underfunding. Remember the top 90% of the population think mass transit is for the poor and as such is never funded for the simple reason the top 90% believe they will NEVER use it. FDR saw this in action and thus refused to permit Social Security to be income indexed. FDR wanted any Social Security benefit to be related to what you paid into Social Security, so the more you put in the more you will get out. The main affect of this is that ALL people will get something out of it and thus the vast majority of people will make sure it is adequately funded. FDR know that if the majority of people think they will NEVER use a program, those same people will NOT support funding for that program. Thus how FDR set up Social Security to make sure there was massive support for Social Security. It is for this reason Transit has been under funded since before WWII. Mass Transit is viewed in most of the Country as a program to help the poor, and since most people do not believe they will ever be poor, they do NOT support funding for mass transit, and thus mass transit is hopelessly underfunded (And given the cheaper up front cost of buses why buses were preferred to Streetcars).

8. Gas was cheap in the 1960s, 25 cents a gallon as late as 1970 ($1.50 in 2013 dollars). That 25 cents INCLUDED both Federal and State Gasoline tax. Public Transit operators did not pay the tax, so fuel for them would be half of that, about 12 cents a gallon, or about 75 cents in 2013 dollars.


No one points out that Brent oil at $110 a Barrel, we have to go back to the US Civil War to get similar prices (on a constant price basis, i.e. adjusted for inflation). The previous post Civil War peaks were in 1980 at $95.89 a barrel and in 2008 at $96.91 a barrel (we had other peaks, in 1974 at $50.41 a barrel and 1876 at $51.37 a barrel and 1871 at $77.41 a barrels but all other peaks are less then the 1896 peak at $34.96). In 1865 is was $91.99 a barrel, in 1864 $110.11 (all prices adjusted for 2009 dollars). Yes we are paying the most or oil since the Civil War.

On the other hand in the 1960s Gasoline was the cheapest in real term it ever was, bottoming out at $9.97 a barrel in 1970 (remember this is 2009 dollars). in simple terms the price for oil in 1970 was 10% of what it is today. Given there is 42 gallons in one Barrel of oil, that comes to 23 cents a gallon in 2009 DOLLARS (remember the $9.97 is in 2009 dollars, so divided by 42 comes to 23 cents in 2009 dollars, which is 4 cents in 1970 dollars). Remember gasoline was selling at 25 cents a gallon in 1970 in 1970 dollars (i.e. The cost of oil was only about 4 cents a gallon the rest of the 25 cents went to taxes, distribution and refining costs, mostly taxes that transit companies did not have to pay AND they received a discount do to the large volume of diesel they purchased). Thus in 1970 it cost most transit companies anywhere from 5 cents to 10 cents per gallon of fuel, when the fare was 25 cents (I know, I paid it then). Today Gasoline is $3.49 a Gallon and bus fare is $3.00. At $110 barrel that comes to $2.61 a gallon, with a federal gasoline tax of 18.4 Cents a gallon that comes to $2.794 a gallon. Add the 50.7 cents gasoline tax (set to go up over the next five years to 59.2 cents a gallon), that comes to $3.301, that leaves 19 cents for distribution and refining costs (I live in Johnstown Pa, which is the tail end of the gasoline distribution centers, which for Johnstown is the Ohio river and New Orleans to Pittsburgh NOT New Jersey via Philadelphia). Thus in the 1960s one fare paid for about 5 gallons of diesel, today one fare barely pays for one gallon of diesel. Historically labor has been the main cost of mass transit, but in recent years Diesel is starting to compete for that title.

9. The "Advertising affect" of streetcars. People forget Advertising is more the ad on TV or billboards, it is the whole product right down to presentation at the point of sale. When it came to Streetcars, the rail in the road and the overhead wire said "Streetcars" run on this route, even if you do NOT see an actual Streetcar. Buses can do the same, but only when the bus is within sight. Once out of sight, out of mind. In the period from the 1920s to the 1950s upper middle class urban residents (Randolph Hearst was an example of one, he oppose streetcars for it interfered with his drive in automobiles) started to campaign to eliminate Streetcars for they were often caught in traffic, and blamed the streetcars for stopping and picking people up at every corner. They did NOT need to see a streetcar, just the rails and the overhead wires were enough to remind them streetcars ran on that street. To end such comments, New York City started to replace Streetcars with Buses in the 1930s. Not that buses were more efficient, but it stop the complaints of streetcars tying up traffic. With no overhead wires and no rails to remind drivers that a mass transit vehicle operated on that road, no one was remembered that they did and thus less complaints of such vehicle causing traffic jams. Politicians are human, the issue to them was NOT Streetcars tying up traffic, but ending the people complaining about Streetcars tying up traffic. Replacing Streetcars with buses reduced such complaints, for when someone was in a Traffic Jam, unless they actually saw a Bus, there was nothing to remind them that a mass transit vehicle, in this case a bus, operated on that road.

10. The people running the Mass Transit system were NOT using the system. People who use a system tend to have a better idea how it runs, both its good points and bad points. Since most of the people using Mass Transit tend to be viewed as to poor to own a car, they are almost never appointed to a Mass Transit board of Directors. Almost every Board member of every mass transit system tend to DRIVE a Car to the meetings and set their schedule for such meetings assuming people can drive to and from the meetings (the Sole exception may be New York City, given more people use mass transit then Automobile transit in NYC, but NYC is the sole exception to this rule). This makes sure the system driving force is NOT providing transit for riders, but to minimize costs AND to provide ways for employers to get low cost workers to their stores (Yes, such employers show up at mass transit meetings, but NOT their employees for the Employee has no way to get to the meeting OR get home from the meeting for many mass transit system close down at the end of the evening rush hour). Thus the people USING the mass transit system have little input into HOW the mass transit system is set up. When it came to replacing Streetcars with buses, the preference of actual riders were ignored UNLESS it amounted to almost a revolt.

When Pittsburgh replaced its Streetcars with buses, the last three Streetcar lines were NOT replaced for they operated on their own right of way (being truncated interurban lines). In all of these lines, it was faster to go to Downtown Pittsburgh by the Streetcar then to drive (The Local paper did this on one route, and the car driver did beat the streetcar rider by about a minute, but that did NOT include looking for a parking space for the car, or traveling from the parking space into downtown Pittsburgh). Please note this was NOT a special streetcar trip, it was the regular trip with all the stops between the end of the line and downtown Pittsburgh and it still was only a minute behind the Automobile).

I bring this up, for in the 1960s Pittsburgh wanted to get rid of this streetcar lines, but could NOT do it with buses. The bus would have to take the same route as the Automobile AND make all the stops the Streetcar did. Thus buses were out. Into this mess came Westinghouse Electric with a proposal for a rubber tired elevated automatic transit system. It was called "Skybus". Given the computers of the time period only one track was possible. To replace these three streetcar line with one automated system, the plan was to use an abandon railroad tunnel to the far edge of Beechview (where the first of these three streetcar line ran). Take the route to the Center of Beechview and then to the border of Beechview and the next suburb Dormont. Thus you had three stops replacing six (and one of those stops was NOT on the Streetcar route, thus two stops replacing six but adding a new stop). It would then go to the next suburb (Mt Lebanon) replacing six more stops with just one, then to Castle Shanon where it merged with the other two routes (eliminating the none stops between Castle Shannon and downtown Pittsburgh). The next stop was to be at Washington Junction where the existing two streetcar lines split. The longer route that was double tracked was to be replaced by a bus-way to Washington Junction. eliminating the whole route through the Borough of Bethel Park, but taking a route to South Hills Village (a then new Shopping mall that had been on the other Streetcar route) where the final stop would be. The two areas, that provided most of the riders on the Streetcar lines, Beechview and Bethel Park, would see the number of transit stop reduced immensely. On hearing of this plan both areas revolted. Skybus became a dirty word in their vocabulary because all they saw was a reduction in service. The high tech features did not impress them, it was that almost all the existing stops in their communities would be eliminated. Meetings in both areas were hostile at best. When people said, why not upgrade the Streetcars, they were told it could not be done. Then Westinghouse Air Brake entered the picture and said, yes upgrading the existing streetcar system WAS possible and here how to do it. The bus agency did NOT want to hear this for upgrading the Streetcar system was NOT on their agenda.

Now, both areas were heavy Democratic Areas, but ended up voting Republican for County Commissioners in the next election (actually voted for one GOP Commissioner and then a Democratic Commissioner, Allegheny County, which is the County Pittsburgh is in, had at that time a three member board of Commissioners, with the three candidates with the highest number of votes winning, but voters only getting to vote twice, thus from the 1930s till the 1990s you had two Democratic Commissioners and one GOP commissioner). The GOP candidate had embraced the Anti-Skybus cause and ended up winning more votes then either Democratic Candidate (but his running mate always came in a distance fourth). The Major of Pittsburgh saw the writing on the wall and came out against Skybus (when you see a revolt, you ride it out, you do NOT suppress it). Finally the Federal Government stepped in and said if you locals do NOT decide what you are going to do, we are taking out transit money elsewhere. This force the bus agency to agree to what the opposition had wanted for ten years, a full scale engineering study that included upgrading the Streetcar system. When the study was completed it was announced that it would be presented at a Church hall in Beechview. I attended that meeting where the engineers pointed out the most cost efficient option was to upgrade the Streetcar system. Skybus had to few stops, to much additional construction needed for it to even compete with the upgrading the existing streetcar system. Thus in the long run Westinghouse Air Brake (Now WABCO) beat out Westinghouse electric (now defunct for other reasons).

Side note: Westinghouse electric and Westinghouse Air Brake were both founded by George Westinghouse. They have ALWAYS been two different corporations.

Just a comment that the movement to abandoned Streetcars in the 1950s and 1960s had many causes, many of them interacting together to replace Streetcars with Buses. Streetcar lines that survived into the 1970s have almost always been replaced by a Light Rail Vehicle (a name adopted in 1969 to replace the American Term "Streetcar" AND the British Term "Tram" with one word, it is NOT a new type of rail-car, just a new name to be used on both sides of the Atlantic).

More on old Streetcars:


More on the West Penn Railway:




West Penn even had a line to Clarksburg and Fairmont, West Virginia (it is NOT on the above map):




Another Streetcar line abandoned in the early 1950s was the Pittsburgh to Charleroi railway (technically it was truncated at the Allegheny County Line and became the Library line and now the Library line of the T):



Here is the story of Skybus, the failed replacement for Streetcars in Pittsburgh (My father always said, it would have been ideal between Downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland, the #2 and #3 stops in the State of Pennsylvania, #1 is downtown Philadephia. The problem was the Port Authortiy Transit that ran Pittsburgh buses had plans to use buses between those two stops and still does. The Streetcars between those two stops had always run on roads, so no private right of way, so no lost in time when the switch from Streetcars to Buses took place. Goes to show this was a plan to replace the last streetcar line NOT to actually improve transit:



Some videos of Skybus in operation:

Please note, Skybus lived on as a people mover in many airports. Seattle Airport was built by Westinghouse Electric (and rebuilt by Bombardier, who after several sales, owns the old Westinghouse Electric part that built Skybus).



You can see Skybus heritage at the San Francisco Airport:

Miami has a people mover in its downtown area:

Skybus's little cousin, a Small elevated transit system built in Morgantown West Virginia for West Virginia University:


Here is a report that gasoline taxes pay only 50% of all road maintenace:

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marmar Dec 2013 OP
Grover1908 Dec 2013 #1
antiquie Dec 2013 #2
LineLineNew Reply That was part of an overall program to "Improve" Transit.
happyslug Dec 2013 #3
Vogon_Glory Dec 2013 #4
happyslug Dec 2013 #5
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