Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Streetcar Struggles Prompt Protectionist Jitney Licensing in 1917

September 5th, 1917
Here's a story that it might be possible to develop over some time. The decline of the streetcar system in Salem is understood in general terms, and of course it mirrors the decline nationally of streetcar systems. It is also generally assimilated into the story of autoist triumphalism, something like "Cars were of course superior, they were in demand, and so it cannot surprise us the streetcar died out, etc." But there are probably local actions and details, twists and turns, that might be a little interesting, and maybe would even revise some of our understanding.

The City's history of the streetcar system cites Ben Maxwell from mid-century, and quickly summarizes a generation's worth of developments:
In 1905 a contract was signed for construction of a carline from the South Commercial Street terminal to Liberty. Service was promised after January 1, 1906. Early in 1910, Portland, Eugene & Eastern had extended their carline over six blocks on Center and Summer streets. This line was projected to the Fairgrounds but dead-ended in a field before reaching that destination.

A newspaper story published on May 19, 1921 credits T. L. Billingsley, superintendent of Salem's streetcar system, with telling the Marion County Realtors' Association that "the city's street railways have not paid in 30 years." He went on to say that he had been associated with the city's carlines since 1912 and that since that time the Company had not received even operating expenses. He pointed out that the investment in Salem's street rail transportation was $458,000 and that total loss to the operating company in 1920 was $43,000.

Street buses replaced carline service on the Seventeenth Street extension on November 24, 1924. On July 29, 1927, Salem newspapers told of busses operating on State Street. On August 4, 1927, Superintendent Billingsley reported that there had been no hitch at all in Salem's complete switch-over from streetcars to buses.
But it is almost certainly true that the story is more complicated and more interesting, and that there was government action involved in addition to whatever market forces were operating. There were policy and regulatory decisions in addition to market developments.

Here's an instance of something that looks like protectionism for the streetcar system as well as for local jitney operators:
Jitney Licenses to be Fifty Dollars

This In Fairness to Street Railway - Council Rescinds Certain Reassessments

Jitney busses from Portland and other outside towns are going to have hard sledding during the period of the Oregon state fair as a result of the passage last night by the Salem council of an ordinance raising the jitney license from $15 to $50 a year. The prime purpose of the raising of the license is to keep out the foreign jitney and give the Salem operators and the Salem street railway company a chance at the business properly theirs.

Manager Billingsley of the railway company was granted the courtesy of the floor and stated to the council that the street car company was running at a loss and has lost about $20,000 during the past year. He said with the equipment on hand it was impossible to take care of the crowds and in order to do it effectively it was necessary to hire car from Portland. [T]his takes considerable money and if jitneys from the outside are to compete he said there would be little for the car company.

Councilman McClelland protested against the passage of the ordinance as he termed it one of the usual pre-state fair measures gotten up to suit the jitney drivers of this city so they can have a monopoly.

In urging the passage of the measure Councilman Unruh, who introduced it, said it was designed to protect the Salem jitneurs* and does not apply to those who hold licenses now. The ordinance expires at the end of the year.
Things we might be able to come back to:
  • The initial development of jitney licensing in Salem (the word in the newspaper first appears in 1915, as best I can tell**; a note from May of 1917 lists 8 jitney licensees)
  • A more detailed history of our street car system's annual losses and its decline
  • Other protectionism in local regulations on jitneys, streetcars, and other conveyance
  • Any parallels between these jitneys and our modern ride-booking apps and transportation network companies

* The word "jitneur" is a new one! Have you seen it before? While it may not have entered serious usage, it was apparently slang for a bit. Here's a "dictionary" from 1916, much of it probably made up as literary parody and not actually spoken as real slang:

The Spokesman, April 1916
The Jitney Lexicon.

The Lexicographer of the Automobile Club of Philadelphia has compiled a vocabulary of “jitnology” that is fairly complete and quite graphic in its definitions. Here it is:

Jitney bus (noun)—A public-spirited automobile; also called jitney or jit.

Jitney (noun)—(1) Price paid for passage on a jitney. (2) A nickel.

Jit (verb)—To ride in a jitney. "They jit by on low gear.”

Jitter (noun)—One who rides in a jitney.

Jitneur, also jitneer (noun)—The driver of a jitney. The first form is preferable, being used by the best of families. .

Jitahoy (noun)—Proper hailing signal for stopping a jitney; cf Chip ahoy!

Jitless (adjective)—Broke, strapped, without a jit. “He was discovered in a garret in a jitless condition.”

Jitsome (adjective)—Worth the prices of a jit. “The complainant averred the ride was not jitsome.”

Jittable (adjective)—Capable of being transported in a jitney. “The jitneur claimed President Taft to be not jittable.”

Jittenarian (noun)—A person who has jitted to work 30 days without injury; hence, by analogy, a person with a charmed life. “He is one of the city's best-known jittenarians.”

Jitalog (noun)—(1) A heated conversation between a street railway conductor and a jitneur. (2) A conversation between a young man in a sport shirt and a young woman with a wad of gum in her mouth, thrown together for the first time in their lives on the rear seat of a jitney. (3) Verbal interchange between a traffic cop and a jitneur who is on the wrong side of the street.

Jitnology (noun)—(1) The science of the jitney. its language and literature. (2) Five-cent literature.

Jithog (noun)—A jitter who insists on retaining the outside seat or spraddles over space that would do for two jitters.

Jitsport (noun)—One who squanders 10 cents on his girl by treating her to a ride around the jitney loop.
Jitney shows up just after 1910, level after 1945 - google ngram
** Its appearance in the newspaper lagged by only a couple of years, it seems. The Ngram chokes on "jitneur," returning a null.

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