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To the editor: It is difficult to feel sorry for General Motors, based on its sordid past.
If GM gets a dime of taxpayer bailout, it should be to reinstate the clean electric rail system this country once enjoyed.
How many people have even heard of the “General Motors Streetcar conspiracy?” Between 1936 and 1950, GM bought out more than 100 electric surface-traction systems in 45 cities and replaced them with their filthy GM buses. At the time, 90 percent of all trips in the U.S. were by clean electric rail.
There were 1,200 separate electric street and interurban railways—a thriving and profitable industry with 44,000 miles of track, 300,000 employees, 15 billion annual passengers and $1 billion in income.
Virtually every city and town in America of more than 2,500 people had its own electric rail system.
We can all thank Alfred P. Sloan Jr., the MIT-trained genius behind General Motors, for making the U.S. the biggest polluter in the world, the most inefficient in mass transit and the most dependent on fossil fuels.
In 1947, a criminal conviction against GM’s “National City Line” was handed down. Nine companies were fined $5,000 each and directors were each fined $1. Meanwhile, GM was crowned the first corporation in U.S. history to cross the one billion dollar mark. Why? Because at the time, only one in 10 Americans owned an automobile, but after GM systematically eliminated the competition of cheap mass transit, Americans had no choice but to buy cars.
In 2008, this ironic reversal of fortune is proving to be a tough break for company employees.
It’s time to make this right. Rather than “bailout” the automotive industry, U.S. taxpayers should tap into their talented workforce and reinstate the “splendid” clean mass transit system GM stole from us all those years ago.