The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

D.C. Streetcars:
Mass Transit Goes off the Rails

Apr 25, 2022

Sixty years ago in 1962, the last streetcars were removed from service in Washington, D.C., as in many cities across the country. Streetcars had served D.C. for 100 years.

Also called trolleys, streetcars were the form of mass transit that developed with the growth of many cities in this and other countries. Streetcars were short electric trains, one or two cars each. They ran very frequently, as often as every other minute. They had many intersecting east-west and north-south routes, making it relatively simple to travel across town.

Then the automobile industry arose. Cities were pressured to replace streetcars with buses and to reduce the overall service provided. This forced people to buy cars to get around.

It’s exactly what happened in Washington, D.C.—with the twist that the federal government was convinced to help fund a monumental but completely inadequate subway system in the 1970s. The subway lines now total 106 miles of track in D.C. and the suburbs. But the streetcars at their height in 1946 ran on 100 miles of track in D.C. alone, plus another 100 miles in the suburbs. And the streetcars provided nearly 400 million rides per year, almost twice as many as the subway was carrying before Covid. As for buses, in 1946 they provided nearly 200 million rides per year, while buses before Covid provided basically half that. The missing riders? Stuck in traffic, stressed about paying for car loans and gas!

Today, big corporations and their governments are pushing electric cars. What about electric mass transit systems?!