This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Why the Street Cars went away in the 1940s in Phoenix and Los Angeles


Like most people my age, I've never been on a Street Car. To me they're only things that my parents' generation remembers, or something I've seen in movies. And my interest in them was sparked by a movie in the 1980s called "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", which was about a conspiracy to buy up all of the Red Cars, tear up the tracks, and replace them with something called a "freeway". Of course, it was just a movie, but I started doing some research on the Street Cars of Los Angeles, and sure enough, they just suddenly disappeared in the 1940s, just like in Phoenix.

Of course it makes a great conspiracy story, and the reality is, sadly, much more more dull. I'm fascinated with learning the real story, so here it is: the Street Cars got old and rickety, were expensive to repair, were unreliable and uncomfortable, and people just stopped using them not long after gasoline-powered automobiles, and buses, became common. In fact, if you can imagine the luxurious feel of being in a modern bus in the 1930s and '40s, you probably would never want to ever get back in an old rickety Street Car. Oh yeah, and nobody wanted to pay more than a nickel, so the Street Car fare prices were held back, even though prices were going up for everything else.

The last Street Car in Phoenix did its last run in 1948. And Street Cars only lasted that long because of the gasoline and tire shortages during World War II. After the war ended, the new technology of comfortable buses really took off. And if you're not familiar with how awesome buses were in the 1940s, you need to take a look at them. They must have been a revelation.

Bus at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in the 1940

Conspiracy stories make for good conversation, and great plots for cartoon movies, but that's about it. Phoenix and Los Angeles both inherited the trolley systems that had been built by the Real Estate Developers starting back in the 1800s. I'm sure that when the Street Cars were new, back when having a horse was the most common form of transportation, they were wonderful. Fifty year later, those old Street Cars must have been pretty rough, and the new buses must have felt like heaven.

Thanks for history adventuring with me!

Image at the top of this post: Street Cars in Phoenix in 1945. You're looking north on 1st Avenue towards Jefferson.


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