History in Motion

Popular Transportation

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

In this shot are three vehicles that had a major impact on transportation history, albeit from very different perspectives. Public and private transportation as we know them today were, in some ways, molded by the two autos and streetcar seen in this Judah Street scene from 1974.

Temporary Crossover Track for Judah Street Track Reconstruction | July 23, 1974 | M1874_1

Temporary Crossover Track for Judah Street Track Reconstruction | July 23, 1974 | M1874_1

In the foreground are two types of Volkswagen, a variation on the 'Bus' (Type 2) to the left and a 'Squareback' (Type 3) to the right. VW is an automaker that changed the transportation world in just a couple of decades following World War II by introducing a cheap, efficient, and reliable mode of private transportation. Volkswagens (eventually coming in four 'Types') poured out of Europe by the millions and soon were found on every continent (yep, even Antarctica). 

One of the most popular autos in history, the Bug (Type 1) was the first car to outsell the Ford Model T and surpassed the 20 million cars sold mark in the late '70s. Today, it's doubtful that anyone (at least in the U.S.) would not instantly recognize an old VW Bug as it puttered by.

In the background, we see Muni PCC Streetcar 1154 rolling off toward Ocean Beach, a vehicle that forever altered the public transportation sector. Introduced in the 1930s to compete with private automobiles, the PCC (Presidents' Conference Committee) Streetcar was based on a number of specifications set forth by a group of railway presidents.

PCC cars had modernized and standardized parts, making them more comfortable to ride in, easier to operate, and cheaper to maintain. Prior to this, most streetcars were built in small runs by many different (usually local) car builders, making maintenance a challenge as mechanics often had to manufacture replacement parts in-house. Unfortunately, the costs of maintaining these types of cars became increasingly more difficult to meet in a time when passenger revenues were being siphoned off into the automobile market. With their improved design elements, the PCCs really helped save many public transit systems by reducing overhead costs and enticing customers with a better ride.

To this day, PCC streetcars are still running in cities across the world (a majority of Muni's historic fleet) and old VWs are still buzzing around as lively as ever with a global community of enthusiasts keeping them alive.

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