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Taken for a Ride (1996)

How the American auto industry engineered the demise of city public-transit systems.


Jim Klein
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Credited cast:
Jim Klein Jim Klein ... Narrator
Renee Montagne Renee Montagne ... Narrator
Bradford Snell Bradford Snell ... Himself
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Joe Alfonsie Joe Alfonsie ... Himself
Joseph L. Alioto Joseph L. Alioto ... Himself
Roger Arnebergh Roger Arnebergh ... Himself
Jack Boorse Jack Boorse ... Himself
Charlotte Bullock Charlotte Bullock ... Herself
Della Clementi Della Clementi ... Herself
Francis V. du Pont Francis V. du Pont ... Himself (archive footage)
Roy Fitzgerald Roy Fitzgerald ... Himself (archive footage)
Ben Grauer Ben Grauer ... Newscaster (archive footage)
Jim Holzer Jim Holzer ... Himself
Barney Larrick Barney Larrick ... Himself
Edwin 'Jay' Quinby Edwin 'Jay' Quinby ... Himself (archive footage)


How the American auto industry engineered the demise of city public-transit systems.

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis





Official Sites:

New Day Films





Release Date:

6 August 1996 (USA) See more »

Filming Locations:

Detroit, Michigan, USA See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


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Did You Know?


Bradford Snell: At that time Alfred P. Sloan said "Wait a minute. This is a great opportunity. We've got ninety percent of the market out there that we can somehow turn into automobile usage. If we can somehow eliminate the rail alternative, then we will create a new market for our cars. If we don't, then General Motors' sales are gonna be level." They had to get rid of the streetcars. They wanted the space that the streetcars used for automobiles. They had to find something that they could put in place of the...
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User Reviews

Why You Drive in Stop-And-G0 Traffice.
30 August 2015 | by rmax304823See all my reviews

This documentary has some of the trappings of propaganda -- insinuations, gloomy music, a paucity of defense from the other side -- but it's still convincing. It's detailed, not sleazy, it's designed for adult consumption, and it makes sense.

I'm no conspiracy theorist. My paranoia quotient is low -- too low, which makes me an easy sell for shams, shoddy goods, and women of low morals. But this conspiracy is logical. I mean, it involves not just a single industry, say the automobile industry, but an entire umbrella organization of all the industries that profit from the building of highways and the sale of cars: the auto industry, of course, but also cement, rubber, petroleum, and construction.

The lobby is a powerful one, though we hear little about because it's disguised under a dozen different fronts. And it works. We can see it working. Money talks, and it talks through the House of Representatives.

What's also persuasive is that the documentary doesn't argue that automobiles are evil in any way. The plea expressed by such enlightened mayors as Joseph Allioto of San Francisco, is that cars and mass transit must exist side by side, that the relationship is complementary not adversarial.

The historical sketch goes as follows. Before 1920, roughly, one out of ten Americans owned a car. Most transportation was by rail, and in the cities that meant electrically powered trolleys, which are cheap and less polluting. They had the right of way in the center of the street.

General motors moved in and bought the trolleys, scrapped them, and replaced them with buses, which were slower and less efficient. (Diesels leave a cloud of black particulate matter behind.) Then money was poured into highways, including the interstate highway system, and mass transportation was cut back, line by line, in a predictable spiral.

Hypothetically, if you have plenty of buses running at 100 percent capacity and raking in profit, and you then cut the lines and schedules by fifty percent and keep the rest running in the least profitable areas, you can legitimately claim that you're shutting down mass transit because it's unprofitable.

There are community activists for arguing in favor of a blend in urban areas, Lewis Mumford was one, but there is no discernible lobby and not much money because the people who are most hurt by the absence of mass transit are those who are less well off. The wind up is a few hundred angry city dwellers who are losing their homes and businesses because a freeway is bisecting their neighborhoods -- against the oil/cement/rubber/construction/automobile lobby. It reminds me of an appearance in traffic court in which my case was announced: "The state of California versus (insert my name), unemployed laborer." Pretty intimidating.

I won't go on about the argument presented in this documentary. I will add some data that came from the San Jose Mercury-News, a highly responsible journalistic enterprise. The issue had to do with providing light rail traffic from suburbs to Sacramento OR adding more highways and more lanes to the highways already in existence. The reporter toted up the cost of each alternative and the results weren't even close. Nevertheless, the highway argument prevailed. My letter to Sacramento received a snotty reply.

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