America’s love affair with automobiles gone on long enough

America’s love affair with automobiles gone on long enough

March 31
03:38 2016

Preston Mitchell | Staff Writer

@Presto_Mitch

Americans love cars — and why shouldn’t we? They’re the most popular form of personal transportation and provide easy mobility. And whether it’s the question of a 1969 Dodge Charger or a 1955 Mercedes-Benz S Class, many are just plain cool to look at.

On the flipside, we often fail to consider that the number of deaths caused by automobiles per year number are in the tens of thousands. While the awareness of these statistics is prevalent, America’s history of ignoring public transit needs similar light shed upon it.

For example, look at the General Motors streetcar conspiracy that began in 1936. GM, Firestone and other companies invested into National City Lines because most streetcar businesses were bankrupt. Up to that point, these owners would pay property taxes on top of franchise fees to stay afloat. About two people at a time would operate each trolley, similar to how their parents ran horse cars, which quickly became insufficient as their salaries never matched the required revenue.

In turn, NCL expanded quickly in the western U.S., ridding communities of buses in favor of trolleys and passenger trains. Not only did this help trolley industries remain afloat, it also provided convenient transportation to areas still recovering from the Great Depression.

Soon after NCL acquired the Los Angeles Railway in 1945, organizations accused the company of monopolizing the industry for their own gain. Making things worse, it forced affected communities to buy more cars if that family couldn’t afford daily public transit.

By 1949, GM and its associates were convicted of these accusations and the NCL began to crumble. As a result, U.S. public transit gradually declined, trolley cars became a thing of the past with debate continuing to spark within the industry to this day.

However, trolleys and trains don’t kill as often as cars do annually. Second to aviation, trains are considered the safest form of travel. Ian Savage, a Northwestern University economist, even conducted a 2013 comparative study on the subject. He found that, between 2000 and 2009, deaths-per-billion passenger-miles via train were 0.43. Furthermore, cars caused 7.3 per billion while motorcycle deaths were at an alarming 213.

Air pollution would lessen enormously if ads and community planners promoted more subways rather than the sleekest, fastest cars on the market. Even though I love getting behind the wheel as much as the next guy, America’s fear of affordable, reliable, clean mass transit is dated and needs to be reconsidered for the sake of not only those who can’t afford cars, but those who might be tragically affected by them.

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