We’ve been taken for a ride…

Happy 2009 everyone.   In light of Bristol’s apparent failure (yet again) to provide a light rail/ tram system for the city, I thought it would be good to take a look at the historical perspective.  The film above, Taken for a Ride, is one of the most important independent films ever produced about the proven conspiracy by corporate interests to destroy public transport infrastructure.  Take an hour and watch it– it demonstrates that our current car dependence didn’t come about because people wanted motorcars- the alternatives were systematically bought up and dismantled so people were forced to drive.  What’s good for General Motors was most definitely not good for America (or the rest of the world…)


Bristol’s trams were a vital part of the city’s transport infrastructure until 1941…in the 1990’s there was hope of a new tram, but mismanagement and a dispute between South Gloucestershire and Bristol dashed those hopes.   This website outlines the history of the tram to north Bristol that was killed in 2004.


Here they are lined up in the city centre- how is it possible that with all the wealth in Bristol, our political leaders tell us we “can’t afford” a tram in 2009?  Is this progress? Something doesn’t add up here…

While smaller cities than Bristol (pop. 411,000)  such as Newcastle-upon-Tyne (pop. 260,000) and Nottingham (pop. 289,000) boast extensive urban rail systems, Bristol is left floundering with overpriced diesel buses and dangerous, polluted streets.  In Germany and other places on the continent, often cities with only 50,000 population have tram systems.  Why are we so backward in the UK?

Could it be the same reason why the trams were destroyed in the first place- to eliminate competition and boost the corporate profits of the oil and auto interests?  Instead of Standard Oil, General Motors, and National City Lines, today in the UK we have BP, Vauxhall, and First.

The names have changed but the formula hasn’t.   This corporate greed and government complicity has led us to where we are today- incessant gridlock, harmful chemicals in our air, deaths on our roads, and skyrocketing obesity.

The question is, when do we stop this mad hatter’s tea party ride and get our transport systems back where they should be– serving the public rather than corporate profits and the worst selfish instincts in ourselves?

10 responses to “We’ve been taken for a ride…

  1. Josh: Your words are a breath of fresh air.

  2. Pingback: Taken for ride « Parburypolitica

  3. Andy in Germany

    A very well made film, thanks for posting it. Perhaps I should make one here showing how transit/cycling could make a city better off…

  4. YUP no surprises there

    when will we all wake up and stop buying their stuff (the rich and powerful)
    and start voting in the marketplace with our money

    stop watching, and paying attention to the media that lies to us

    and switch our purchases, deposits, investments and attention and associations from the corporations and banks that control us to honest and decent companies (and create new ones.)

    We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
    —Frances Moore Lappé,

  5. That was a very interesting film. Thanks for posting it.

    Here’s a video showing the last days of the tram in Haarlem (a very pretty town west of Amsterdam):


    It’s the same story – replacement by buses. Many trams disappeared in this country too.

    However, there’s a twist here. In these images you’ll see cycling under pressure. Cars, trams, trucks, buses “sharing” space with bikes, which of course means cyclists being under pressure to “get out of the way”. What happened ultimately on many Dutch streets is that neither the tram nor the bus ended up with access in the centres. Those spaces are for cyclists and pedestrians.

    Most journeys within cities are of a length that a bicycle is a perfectly reasonable means of transport, and as has been shown here with several cities (Groningen, Zwolle etc.) it is quite possible to have over half of all journeys by bike.

  6. David, thanks for that link to youtube. There’s quite a collection of fascinating old Dutch films there, including one on Groningen from 1923. Quite an eye-opener to the way of life, obviously well before the health-and-safety mob got going. You can see a pedestrian/cycle collision captured by chance. It appears that such things were considered so inconsequential that nobody takes the slightest notice.

  7. Hi Josh, good to see the cartoon, was awesome. Up here in York they’ve also got a large pot of money for cycling but appear to be wasting it. Similar to the Bristol situation. Working in a bike recycling place at the moment is going good, but it ain’t the high-level change that is needed.

    Whatever happened to the sustrans post anyway?


  8. Chris, that’s still pretty much the case.

    If you cycle here through an area with pedestrians, people don’t grab their children away from you as you cycle by. They’re used to bikes.

    Another example of how things are different here: I delivered a few things locally today, including to this street. While I was there, I was mobbed by half a dozen pre-school age kids on their scooters and bikes.

    They followed me for about a quarter of a mile up the road, around a few corners, talking to me constantly (Dutch children seem not to be banned from talking to strangers and no-one looks at you in an unpleasant way if you talk back either), asking repeatedly if I’d got a parcel for them too and generally being cheeky and cute. After a while we reached the end of the area they were allowed to wander free in, so we said goodbye and they turned for home.

    No parents in sight, and none that could have seen them when they started could still see them when they’d had enough and went home.

    It’s quite normal here to be very relaxed about safety in the public space around bikes. No need to look back to 1923 for that sort of thing.

    BTW, what I was referring to before about the centres no longer being dominated by motor vehicles (not even buses) was this kind of thing.

  9. I just wrote a massive post on this and because I hadn’t put my email in it deleted it. Shame on you Josh for such a basic site!! 😉

    It read a little along these lines… Newcastle only has urban rail due to the former rail lines that went across our city in order to move the coal. It basically sits upon these lines on the most part. Had we not got it when we did… we never would have. Despite having it, we have the fastest car ownership growth in the country and a hugely declining patronage on buses and (less so) on the Metro.
    I also made the point that whilst we don’t have discernibly comparable levels of congestion as other cities further south it is increasing. This is beginning to cause problems. This particularly becomes a problem when people object on spurious grounds to public transport corridors http://4westroad.blogspot.com/
    The crux of my post illustrated that Newcastle has gone from a position of having an integrated transport system that foreign planners would travel to come and see (with 1 bus crossing the river an hour). To something that – put kindly – couldn’t claim the same. I also made an allusion that it’s interesting that the only area of the country with a viable and integrated transport system is London. Could there be a link there to the fact there’s only one area in the country that didn’t have to ally with policy and legal measures put in place when services were privatised and de-regulated? There couldn’t be could there.
    For this reason alone I always have a chuckle when mates living in London whine about the transport system… let’s see what they make of it north of the Watford Gap if they ever get there eh!
    However, the post got deleted so you’ll never know what I was talking about. Ho hum.

  10. Could someone fill me in on the details of this current failure to secure decent transport for Bristol.

    I thought that WEP chose buses over trams cos bus would cost £20m and tram £35m, now it seems bus would cost £47m. So why aren’t we dropping bus and picking up tram as the reason for decision (allegedly) was cost.

    Can we not declare decision null and void and insist on the cheaper option of tram?

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