Nobody will seriously argue that NCL wasn't aggressive in replacing streetcars with buses. My only point, though, is that during the late '40s and '50s, bus substitution was carried on industrywide, regardless of a specific company's ownership or control. NCL was neither unique nor, in some cases, the worst offender. And whatever its policies, NCL was really a minority player among large-city transit systems. NCL largely specialized in smaller cities where streetcar operation already was a lost cause. It may be instructive to list the major cities that NCL controlled vs. all such cities. You'll find that NCL really wasn't the huge influence that many people think.
So why did everybody convert? Sometimes there were strictly local factors, such as political attitudes -- Manhattan and Washington being egregious examples. But more often, it was a lethal combination of common industry ills, such as:
- Huge postwar capital needs, to rehabilitate and replace rolling stock, track, and electrical distribution systems. (Sure, many cities had modern PCCs, but not nearly enough to replace equipment dating to the 1920s and earlier.)
- At the same time, cities were spreading outward, necessitating even more capital investment for line extensions.
- And, of course, thanks to accelerating auto use, ridership was nosediving, and nobody could predict how far down it might eventually go.
- All of this combined to make large, long-term capital investments highly risky, and even if the transit companies themselves were optimistic, their moneylenders were not. (Overall, in fact, the industry's financial performance had been declining since World War I, something that left the moneylenders even less impressed.) In this unstable and uncertain environment, buses were the best financial hedge, since they could be depreciated faster and, if need be, be resold relatively easily.
- Besides all that, streetcar operation had several well-known economic disadvantages, e.g.:
-Maintenance of track and electrical distribution systems
-At least some degree of responsibility for costs of repaving and street upgrading.
-Usually, responsibility for snow clearing within the track areas
-Usually too, taxes on all the fixed plant
And the reasons go on. In Baltimore, for example, the demise of the streetcar was hastened not just by NCL, but by an extensive and radical redesign of the city's street traffic patterns, which would have required enormous expeditures to relocate routes -- even if a hostile city traffic commissioner had allowed it. Many other cities had similar situations as postwar vehicle traffic demanded widening, repaving, and realigning streets -- and, at the same time, as the public (and thus the politicians) became impatient with streetcars "obstructing" freer traffic flow.
So now the question: If you were a transit manager in this era and environment, responsible to your stockholders and responsive to the politicians who controlled your franchises and fare structures, what would you do?