How Tire Companies Supposedly Sabotaged LA's Early Transit System

CULTURE | May 12, 2023

1968 General Motors T8H-5305. (Oran Viriyincy/Wikimedia Commons)

National City Lines

By 1945, Pacific Electric was inextricably in trouble, but the nail in their coffin actually had nothing to do with them. A company called National City Lines bought up the Los Angeles Railway only to rip up the tracks that sent their Yellow Cars—and by extension, Pacific Electric's Red Cars—through the city streets to make way for a new fleet of buses, putting an end to the whole streetcar system in Los Angeles. It just so happens that the principle investors in National City Lines were General Motors, Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, Standard Oil of California, and Phillips Petroleum. You know, a lot of folks who had a vested interest in the success of the automobile.

It didn't help that just four years later, those corporations were found guilty of "conspiring to acquire control of a number of transit companies, forming a transportation monopoly" and "conspiring to monopolize sales of buses and supplies to companies owned by National City Lines" in violation of the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act. Sure, General Motors also made buses, so it's not like they wanted to kill off public transportation completely, but they wanted it powered by diesel. About 30 years later, antitrust lawyer Bradford Snell testified before the U.S. Senate that "General Motors and allied highway interests acquired the local transit companies, scrapped the pollution-free electric trains, tore down the power transmission lines, ripped up the tracks, and placed G.M. motor buses on already congested L.A. streets."

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.