From February, 1946 Air Trails Magazine. Original title: Battle of Transportation.
EDITORS NOTE: In the 1930’s, air travel had safety and price problems. World War II perfected transport aircraft. What did we think about the future of air travel in 1946? Will we travel overseas by ship or air? Will we travel the U.S. by train, bus or air?
This article highlights the direction of travel in the U.S. … BUT, this article shows us that politics were involved. One forgets that transportation in the U.S. used to be heavily regulated.
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The airplane is no longer a little David throwing pebbles at a giant Goliath. It is now a mighty young giant ready and willing to begin a battle for supremacy against such older transportation giants as the railroads, steamships, trucks, and buses.
The vigorous and ever more powerful young aviation giant of today is not onIy a challenge to the aged, wise, and sturdy railroads, but a threat to the very existence of the other forms of transportation.
The war is over. The titans of transportation have been turned loose from a patriotic job to one in which competition is so tough that only the fittest can survive. In the continual battle of old against new, the plane cannot chase one opponent at a time ; it must engage all of them simultaneously.
Congress will be the referee. One hundred and thirty five million citizens will have a direct stake in the outcome. The winner’s purse can be the fastest, cheapest, and best transportation the world has ever known. Or the battle can be a stalemate that will drag on so long and be so costly to the taxpayers that the referee, Congress, will be forced to permit surface and air transportation to band together into large monopolies, or even to bring all out eventual Government ownership and operation of such services.
The railroads and the steamship lines have looked for some time in fearful trepidation upon the amazing increase in air transportation. They now know that ultimately aircraft will be carrying a major share of their passenger and express traffic, as well as air mail and perhaps in the not-too-distant future even heavy cargo. With each new remarkable advance of air transportation, the railroads, steamship lines and the buses have arched their backs like the proverbial cat, wondering how best they might meet such sensational improvements in travel.
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Try as they might, these older forms of transportation have found no way in which to stop or slow down the steadily increasing inroads being made upon their forms of travel by the airplane. Finding no other way out of this dilemma, they have finally adopted the adage, ‘ If you can’t beat them, join them!’. The end result now sought by all of the older forms of transportation is to combine their forms with that of air under the slogan of “What is good for one can be made good for all.”
That, in essence, is the very foundation of the Battle of Transportation which the public is beginning to witness in the United States. It is a battle which the airlines have vowed they would fight to the finish.
The battle is not a new one in the transportation history of the nation. It is, instead, an elemental one which has been going on with increasing tempo since the pack mule trains of l790 were finally driven out of business by the, then, new and speedy Conestoga Wagons. These in turn were displaced by canal boats, and the boats in turn were removed from the American scene when they were replaced by the noisy but more efficient and faster railroads. The battle has had its counterpart in shipping; sailing ships were finally driven off the high seas by the coal-burning steamships, and then by the modern oil burners and Diesel-electric ships.
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It is unique that those who stand to gain or lose the most in this titanic struggle are Mr. and Mrs. John Citizen, for it is they who have been the generating cause of the battle. It is they who are determined to have the fastest, cheapest, and most convenient form of travel regardless of how much cutthroat competition and business rivalry it may cause between the various forms of transportation. This is the way the public feels, in spite of the fact that it is the public which largely supports the various types of transportation by investments in stocks as well as by the taxes they pay to maintain so many different facilities. The struggle is thus far more competitive and serious than in any other industry. It will remain so as long as Americans continue to demand better transportation than that afforded to any other people in the world.
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The struggle is no longer confined to the limits of the United States, but has extended itself throughout the water and air spaces of the world. The steamship lines, knowing full well they cannot offer the speed and cheapness of travel by air, are determined to get into the airline business as a means to prevent their eventual dissolution. Moreover, since it appears that other foreign nations might permit their steamship lines to acquire airlines so that they may offer a combined service, American shipping operators declare that unless permitted to do likewise, it means the virtual end of any large American merchant marine.
The fight is going on even within the inner workings of Government. Today the Civil Aeronautics Administration and the Civil Aeronautics Board are fighting valiantly for the airlines and adopting policies which forbid surface carriers to take to the air spaces. The U. S. Maritime Commission is just as aggressively advocating ships, harbor facilities, and a large merchant marine, plus the right of steamship lines to engage in overseas air transport. The Interstate Commerce Commission has always been known as the champion of surface transportation in all its forms. Each agency strives to advocate that method of transportation most adaptable for its own particular type of conveyance, often to the detriment of other travel.
Then there are the large, well-financed associations representing every form of transportation, all of whom pour thousands of dollars into advertising and publicity campaigns, Congressional lobbying, and other public-influencing actions designed to propagandize their particular form of transportation.
In all of this struggle, however, one factor stands out crystal clear. All forms of surface transportation know they cannot simply wave a magic wand and do away with air travel. They know they cannot force Congress to regulate it out of existence. They know they cannot change the attitude of the public, who look on with awe and approval as the plane continues to shatter speed record after speed record, and continues to lower freight, express and passenger rates to the point where they may soon be cheaper than whatever rates their competitors can afford to offer the public. Thus the only alternative left to surface carriers is to join the airlines, or else watch their types of transportation shrivel in size and importance.
A large group of the common surface carriers have now banded together for what they feel must be the showdown to this transportation struggle. Their only hope, they believe, is to combine themselves with air transportation so that they might guarantee the continued existence of their primary form of transportation. Their program, boiled down, is this: They seek to band together groups of different types of travel facilities—land, water, and air—into perhaps six to ten giant transportation monopolies or community corporations. They appear to be sincere in their belief that with such, forms of giant transportation enterprises, competition could still exist, although on a much simplified and less destructive scale. Competition would be restricted to a half-dozen carriers instead of to the present hundreds of individual corporations, companies, and persons.
The surface carriers feel that in this manner they could guarantee an elimination of waste and duplication. Also that the combined operations of land, sea, and air conveyances would complement each other and thus provide highly efficient and. more convenient transportation. The surface carriers maintain that there would still be room for the small, independent steamship, air, or railroad line where the public interest warranted such added competitive service regardless of its type.
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The airlines are fearless of competition. They have the most complete confidence in themselves, but feel that the proffered embrace of the railroads, steamship lines, and bus companies might be a, lethal one. Where surface carriers are not convinced of the soundness of lasting competition to make transportation better, cheaper, and faster, the air carriers feel that it is mandatory. It must be, they think, if the public is to be guaranteed the most convenient and efficient service at the lowest possible cost. The air carriers are positive in their conviction that the only way in which the public can be assured the best possible travel at all times is to make sure that it advances into that better new world which everyone is seeking, although competition may force some agencies into bankruptcy.
Where will this contention for transportation mastery lead to? The battle of transportation has now reached such proportions, and has become so bitter, that several members of Congress have resolutions pending which would set up full-dress investigations of the entire industry. Out of these investigations, plus the tremendous tug-and-pull of pressure brought to bear in the form of lobbies to influence both Congress and the public, the airlines are fearful will come some type of legislation that will permit surface carriers of all types to engage in air transportation. If this should happen, and there are significant numbers of powerful and wealthy businesses who are gambling millions of dollars that it will, it is hard to prophesy into what pattern the nation’s transportation system will be molded.
Surface carriers, by their very age and nationally integrated financial structures, extend far more firmly into the realm of John Citizen’s daily life than do the air carriers. Consequently, they may be able to gather greater legislative, and perhaps even public-influenced opinion and action than their opponents.
The air carriers possess an ace-in-the hole that cannot be discounted. President Truman is on record as being firmly opposed to the participation of surface carriers in air transportation. This highly important factor, plus all the strength the aviation industry can muster, may bring about clear-cut and decisive legislation which will determine an over-all transportation policy to forever end the threat of transportation monopolies or ultimate Government ownership.
Until them the public cannot afford to sit by as it has from the beginning of the transportation struggle. The stakes are too high amid too important. It must express itself determinedly, now, while the battle of the giants is taking place.