The sad truth of when a tram system is closed down. Sydney, Australia.

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The conspiracy everyone is mentioning is only one small part of the puzzle. It sped up the demise, but even without intervention most of the systems that failed would still have failed. (warning: long explanation ahead)

Streetcar companies were private, meaning they couldn’t operate at a loss. That was no problem when there weren’t any cars, they were the only option beyond walking, biking or taking a horse. Even when cars first started being major in the teens and 20s, the vast majority of the country still had no cars and were therefore reliant on streetcars.

Then the Great Depression hit. It meant that streetcar companies for the most part stopped expanding and began to cut back on maintenance and vehicle replacement. The freeze became even more pronounced during the war. So for a 15 year period almost every streetcar system remained static, no new cars, few to no new lines, less than the recommended maintenance. When the war ended many systems were behind the times.

During that same 15 years streetcars were largely standing still cars and buses were improving. Gas powered vehicles became advanced enough to be economically competitive with electric streetcars. There became a practice in many cities of individuals driving a few minutes ahead of a streetcar and picking people up for the same 5c the trolley cost.

The war effort had brought American production to new heights, and so at the wars end when factories switched from bombers to cars the number of car owners exploded. This clogged the streets, which in tern slowed the streetcars since none of them had dedicated lanes. And, those lanes the streetcars now shared with regular cars were still the responsibility of the trolley company to maintain.

The association rail had with “the past” also doomed it from a cultural standpoint. In the 50s and 60s, cars and buses were the future and rail was the Depression and the past. The new high speeds of a parkway or expressway could only be reached by cars and buses, a streetcar could never go that fast.

Add to this that the US had a lot of undeveloped land around their cities that they quickly developed as the population continued to increase quickly, particularly its cities. The GI bill gave millions of people the chance to buy a home rather than rent. They never could have bought a home pre-war and so there were much fewer suburbs. For a city like LA with flat land and sunshine as far as the eye can see it very quickly became houses where once was farmland. Those new cities never had a streetcar, and installing the rails would have been costly. A bus could use the same roads as the cars, no need to spend the extra money.

**TL;DR**

So coming out of WWII you had private streetcar companies that needed to remain profitable while dealing with:

* A decrease in service quality from jammed roads
* A decrease in ridership as more people owned cars
* An outdated and poorly maintained fleet due to the Depression
* An inability to cover newly settled suburbs without signifiget cost
* An inability to use freeways
* A cultural bias towards the more “modern” bus

With or without the conspiracy, the streetcars would have failed in most cities. At most a few cities might have kept them, but LA was not one of them.

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