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Thu Nov 5, 2015, 02:25 PM

If OTR Transport in the 40s & 50s Had Been Treated Like Communications Today...

'scuse me a minute... "GET OFF MY LAWN, you kids!"

Alrighty, then. Let granny, who's also a history student, tell you about the rise of mass OTR transport in America, 'way back when.

See, once upon a time, we didn't HAVE OTR transport. We didn't even have much in terms of roads. Serious! I kid you not! Transport of goods and people over distances longer than from one side of town to the other? That was handled by railroad. And railroads had a long, ugly history of oligarchy, monopolistic ownership, collusion, price fixing, and generally extracting every dime into their owners' bank accounts they possibly could.

All this, of course, at the expense of the greater economy and the middle class. When Teddy Roosevelt, the Progressive Movement (the late 19th/early 20th Century iteration thereof) threatened their hold on America's financial throat, they smashed the economy to smithereens, attempting to put us in our places.

Didn't work out the way they hoped, for two reasons: One being, we don't give up easy. But the other one was this new technology: The "motorcar," based on a gadget, the gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine.

At first, our Beloved Oligarchs didn't think it was much of a threat, really. A rich man's toy. Tracks were built for racing, of course. They certainly bought their own, found them useful on the estate, and in town, where the streets were increasingly being paved. Gas-fueled delivery vans started to replace horse-drawn wagons, but for long distance movement of goods and people the rails were still the only real option.

But we kept fighting back and the internal combustion tech kept evolving-- it evolved enough for a few of the Oligarchs to see it as a potential profit center, maybe even a replacement for the rails in terms of controlling the economy, should that be necessary. They invested. The railroads continued to decline. The automobile became cheaper, faster to produce, more powerful.

And in the wake of the second of the 20th Century's major wars, the nation realized that OTR transport was not only a viable replacement for long-distance rail transit, it was a superior option for an economy that was experiencing the biggest growth surge in its history. If the economy was to keep up with the population, it was THE option.

But an infrastructure would be needed.

Here's where the Alternate History version kicks in:

So a few Oligarchs went to the government and got massive welfare subsidies to start building the roads needed for mass OTR transit. At first, they colluded with one another and established territorial lines-- an East Coast corridor controlled by this Oligarch, a mid-Cross Country highway under the control of another, with the lesser players grabbing various regional and inter-city routes, extorting subsidies for building from state and local governments, etc.

And the bigger players achieved vertical integration with their own trucking lines, and worked out deals with one another for inter-system transit tolls and fees and charges. And they started snapping up the smaller and regional companies, and increasing local tolls and road fees to private drivers, to cover the costs of the acquisitions, of course.

At first, local governments attempted to keep up publicly-operated and subsidized omnibus, tram, and other local mass-transit options, but it became more "cost effective" to outsource them to the big OTR transit providers, and they gave up, paying "operation fees" from tax dollars for local transit. But costs kept going up, and up, and required fees and surcharges for people trying to commute to work outside their "zones."

Initially it was more cost-effective, if you COULD afford your own vehicle, to sign up for a monthly or annual road use plan with your local OTR provider, but as more and more of those got gobbled up by the big players, the fees increased, as did superfees for inter-system access, and eventually most people gave up private cars.

The economy began to gasp, and strangle. A massive depression set in...

Of course, that isn't what actually happened. Instead, we engaged in a massive post-WWII public works project to create the infrastructure needed to enable OTR technology to far surpass railroads in volume and efficiency of moving goods and people. This public investment and public control and public maintenance ended up fueling (you should excuse the pun!) one of the longest surges of middle-class prosperity our nation has ever known.

Any similarities to the Internet in this bit of alternate history fantasy are, well... yes, totally intentional.

speculatively,
Bright

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Reply If OTR Transport in the 40s & 50s Had Been Treated Like Communications Today... (Original post)
TygrBright Nov 2015 OP
HassleCat Nov 2015 #1
TygrBright Nov 2015 #2
imanamerican63 Nov 2015 #3

Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Thu Nov 5, 2015, 02:49 PM

1. Nice narrative, but...

 

The trucking industry is nearly as corrupt as the railroads were.

Trucks do not pay for even a fraction of the damage they do, particularly since Reagan raised the weight limits. Remember the sticker you used to see on semi trailers? The ones that said, "This truck pays $5,554 per year in taxes?" You don't see those anymore because they backfired. Everybody knows the average truck causes 100 times that much damage to the roads.

The rise of the trucking industry was fueled, to use your pun, by petroleum companies and tire manufacturers.

Once development interests realized the attractive aspects of having freeways run in and out of major cities, the freeway system was diverted from its original purpose and its original routes. Now it's useless as a national defense system, although I think the words "national defense" still appear in its official title. But it's great for the people who build and sell houses and apartments in the suburbs. "If you lived here, you'd be home by now!"

Trucks are not more efficient than trains when it comes to moving freight. Trucks win when it comes to short distance, perishable goods, etc. but trains are vastly more efficient when it comes to heavy stuff and long hauls.

The trucking industry is a major reason our politician are afraid to raise the gas tax to pay for all the damage the trucks did.

And so on. Yes, trucks are wonderful. They give several of my jobs that relieve them being dairy farmers, which they were not very good at in the first place. And they created the economic boom you mentioned, just as the railroads did when they killed off the natives and opened up the west. But we paid for the boom with taxes, and forgiveness from taxes, just as we paid for the Reagan Prosperity everybody loves so much. And our highways are clogged with trucks. If you want to know what I mean by "clogged," try driving I-95 in the eastern corridor. I-5 in the west is nearly as bad.

"Two edged sword" is a cliche' but it applies perfectly to the truck situation. We derive benefits, but we pay for them.

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Response to HassleCat (Reply #1)

Thu Nov 5, 2015, 03:14 PM

2. Of course it is. There are no Shining Heroes in the narrative of capitalism.

Only the more and the less greedy and corrupt, and the level of willingness to compromise with regulation and socialism to preserve the system for a wider range of beneficiaries.

We've never managed to design a system that will produce an equitable economic utopia for hundreds of millions of people with differing cultures, values, goals, and expectations yet.

amiably,
Bright

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Response to HassleCat (Reply #1)

Thu Nov 5, 2015, 10:43 PM

3. Not sure how to respond to your post, HassleCat?

I have been driving a truck for approximately 30 years.

Fuel cost was averaging 90 cents in the 80's and now the prices have tripled, so have the highway taxes. So between, the cost of fuel and highway taxes, just a single truck owner loses half of his profits right off the top and then the cost of maintain the truck, insurance and road expense leaves very little left for profits for that single owners. The larger the company pay less taxes, because the government tax breaks. The government gets their money, but don't use it for repairing of the highways should not be totally on the trucking industry.

I get stuck in traffic all the time. To blame it solely on truck traffic is way off base, because there are more cars on the highway then there are trucks. Also, when a train is derailed, there is more damage done to the environment than what trucks do to the highway.

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