Getting There

By the late nineteenth century, the railroads had become a power unto themselves. The creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) in 1887 came too late to curb the railroads’ early free- ranging exploitation of their customers, and by the time the ICC achieved real authority it was much too late, for the railroads were already in decline. Unfortunately, the strong restraints eventually put on the railroads crippled them in exactly those years when they needed freedom to compete with the upstart trucking industry. All of the highway advocates—truckers, asphalt companies, and others—had the railroads in a strangle hold that emerges in Goddard’s account as the major cause of the pollution- enveloped gridlock that prevails in so many modern American cities.

Goddard’s well-informed sidebar on “The Gruesome Trolley Autopsy” accuses General Motors and its affiliates of conspiring to monopolize the market for automotive accessories, a policy that contributed to the demise of the urban trolleys. He resists claims that what happened was simple innocent capitalism in action; instead, the strategy acted “to subvert the choice implicit in such a free market.”

Goddard’s figures on the hidden costs of driving are sobering. Patrolling the highways, insuring a free flow of foreign oil, disposing of automotive junk, and paying for insurance combine with the many other associated expenses to cost Americans nearly $300 billion a year, in Goddard’s estimate.

What does Goddard think can be done? He hopes that rush-hour traffic can be diverted to off-peak hours, that traffic can be controlled electronically, and that the home computer can become an “off- ramp” to data superhighways that will take many vehicles off the road. Nevertheless, he cautions readers not to repeat mistakes in planning the information superhighways.

Goddard has written an illuminating study, well researched and lucidly presented.