The popular 1996 documentary Taken for a Ride alleges that streetcars were killed by a conspiracy headed by General Motors. It’s a story that alt-transport advocates have been eager to embrace, since it paints an automaker as the big bad bully.
But is it true? Probably not. Independent observers tell a very different story, saying that streetcars were on the decline anyway whether GM was involved or not. As Cecil Adams put it, blaming GM for the demise of streetcars is like blaming the inventor of gunpowder for war.
It’s no mystery that the anti-car crowd could have been easily duped when one looks at how uncritically they accepted the GM conspiracy theory without ever raising the possibility that it might be exaggerated. It’s disturbing that in the dozens of gushing reviews of the film I read by the alt-transpo community, every single reviewer proudly trumpeted the film’s findings as fact, never once suggesting that there could be another side to the story. The fact that the community has been so eager to embrace the message put forth without showing any pretense of having an open mind gives one pause.
And what has their response been to the extensive debunking of Taken for a Ride? Silence. One can even imagine the alt-transpo people sticking their fingers in their ears and chanting “La la la la la” when any suggestion is made that Taken for a Ride might not be completely accurate.
If GM really did kill streetcars, it’s rather hard to believe it when no effort has been made to support that position in the face of the credible evidence that suggests otherwise.
Criticism of Taken for a Ride:
- The Straight Dope. Legendary Chicago Times columnist concludes that streetcars were on the way out whether GM were involved or not.
- Berkeley’s Institute for Transportation Studies. ITS isn’t known for being a cheerleader for the auto industry, so their article which debunks the GM conspiracy theory comes with some credibility attached.
- Stan Schwarz gives a pointed analysis of the GM conspiracy theory.
- San Francisco Bay Crossings. A blistering debunking of the GM conspiracy story.