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The Great Transportation Conspiracy - National City Lines and related corporate conspiracies to destroy America's electrified mass-transit systems from the 1930's into the present. 




National City Lines Conspiracy and Conviction in Federal Court:

"Mass transit didn't just die, it was murdered" 
Kwitny, 1981

"When GM and a few other big companies created a transportation oligopoly for the internal-combustion engine  . . . they did not rely just on the obvious sales pitch.  They conspired.  They broke the law. . . in 1949 a jury convicted the corporations and several executives of criminal antitrust violations for their part in the demise of mass transit.  The convictions were upheld on appeal."   Kwitny, 1981

The above quotes refer to the infamous anti-mass transit "National City Lines Conspiracy" led by General Motors, Standard Oil and Firestone Tires.  The above quotes by Jonathan Kwitny are taken from page 14 of the Feb 1981 edition of Harper's Magazine (PDF).  It is a truly exceptional article.

In 1949, National City Lines were convicted in Federal court (and in 1951 the conviction was upheld) for  destroying the electrified rail and electric bus transit systems in 44 American cities.  Beginning in 1937, National City Lines embarked on a nationwide campaign to induce cities (by aggressively pushing “an offer you can’t refuse” of G.M. /National City Lines financing – at the height of a 12 year long, world-wide economic depression) to scrap electrically powered streetcars and trolley-buses, which G.M. did not make, and to substitute gasoline powered buses manufactured by G.M., burning Standard Oil gasoline, and rolling on Firestone rubber tires.  When National City Lines would aquire a transit system, the trolley rails would be ripped up, the overhead wires would be cut down, and the system would be converted to buses within 90 days.  It's noteworthy that New York City's electrified surface transportation system was National City Lines first victim (see the video “Taken For A Ride”).

Strangely, although the Federal Government won the case against G.M., it never imposed any penalty on the company other than extremely small symbolic fines.  Perhaps at the time, the Truman administration felt it needed the undivided assistance of G.M. in fighting the Korean War, and pursuing the “Cold War” against the former Soviet Union, more than it needed a national, privately financed and operated all electric mass transit system.

The National City Lines controversy didn't just go away:

GM's role in Monopolizing the Sale of Buses for municipal use:

In 1971, the City Of New York led a class action anti-trust lawsuit of 300 localities against G.M. in federal court (PDF) for price fixing and price gouging in the sale of G.M. buses to municipalities. See NY times article (PDF).

GM's role in the destruction of intercity rail, suppression of alternative energies and more:

In 1972, then U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy called for a Federal investigation into G.M.’s alleged conspiratorial destruction of the U.S. rail industry and public mass transit industry, in order to facilitate the sale of automobiles.  (see NY Times article (PDF))

At the time, this subject was brought to the attention of Senator Kennedy by NYC based labor attorney and transportation expert Theodore W. Kheel and Ralph Nader associate Bradford C. Snell (see PDF streetcar conspiracy article by Snell and the video “Taken For A Ride”).  Snell was then a San Francisco based attorney, who worked on NYC’s anti-trust bus lawsuit against G.M.

This led to Senate Bill 1167 of 1974 “The Industrial Reorganization Act” and the now little known Ground Transportation Hearings of April 1974 - which were sidetracked by the resignation of then U.S. President Richard Nixon on August 8, 1974 (Watergate). G.M. was literally “saved by the bell”…

In 1974, during the height of the first "Energy Crisis", the U.S. Senate re-investigated General Motors for its involvement in not only the intentional destruction of the U.S. Streetcar industry, but also G.M.'s direct involvement in the intentional destruction of the U.S. rail freight and passenger rail industry, the systematic suppression of U.S. alternative energy sources, and energy efficient automobile engines, as well as providing direct material aide to Nazi Germany during WWII in the critical areas of military truck manufacture, and military airplane and jet engine manufacture.
 
Part 4a through appendix  of 1974 Senate Investigation document can be read here (78mb PDF)
Part 4 of 1974 Senate Investigation document can be read here (40mb PDF)

So is the "Unholy Trinity" of the National City Lines Conspiracy still in effect today? 

If so in a current corporate context this Unholy Trinity may include:
G.M.
Standard Oil
Firestone Tire

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NovaBus (builds CNG buses at the G.M. bus manufacturing plant in Quebec, Canada)
Trillium USA (provides CNG bus fuel to nearly every U.S. municipal bus fleet)
Cato Institute / Wendell Cox / National Highway Users Alliance
Urban transportation planning and system design, pre-National City Lines conspiracy and decimation:

Before the criminal conspiracy that destroyed America's mass transit systems, Heavy Rail (subways), electrified streetcars and electric bus lines formed an integrated system.  Such a system can still be found in San Francisco (America's second densest populated city).  Although such an integrated system no longer exists in New York City, we once had such a system.  The Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Company (BMT) and it's subsidiary Brooklyn and Queens Transit Company (B&QT) actually pioneered this type of integrated transit system.  A new type of vehicle was even created for this system, the PCC. During the 1920's NYC transportation engineers and planners developed the following hierarchy of all urban electric transportation modes, as a function of corridor ridership density:
 
1. Heaviest density corridors to be serviced by subway/elevated
2. Electric Streetcar lines to feed subway/elevated lines
3. Electric Bus lines to feed the Streetcar lines
 
BHRA feels the best way to improve quality of life in urban communities, and truly get a handle on CO2 emissions in densely populated urban settings, is to return to a truly integrated and sensible mode of transportation planning.  This includes switching mass transit vehicles (along densely populated corridors) back from hydrocarbon combustion (in any form), to electric energy derived from low carbon footprint, renewable electrical generating sources.

A fascinating side note: National City Lines was complicit in maintaining Apartheid ("Jim Crow Laws") in the American south:

"Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to move to the back of the bus operated by Montgomery Bus Lines, a subsidiary of a National City Lines on 1 December 1955 which led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. . . The boycott lasted for just over a year and ended only after a successful ruling by the Supreme Court that allowed black bus passengers to sit anywhere they wanted." (from: National City Lines and the Montgomery Bus Boycott)


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