Public transportation along the U.S.-Mexico border is scarce at best today, but seventy years ago there was a cheap, efficient way for people to come and go across the border that ran on electricity.
Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC) Streetcars ran between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua from 1950 until 1973, ferrying millions of passengers over the Rio Grande and giving them easy access to both countries.
The streetcars were actually such a good idea, that the city of El Paso brought them back in 2018, decades after shuttering the program. But it’s not quite the same, because the new fleet doesn’t run across the two countries anymore.
The PCC streetcars have a fascinating and long history, which I encourage you to look at, but one of the main takeaways was that private car ownership is one of the reasons — along with frustrated merchants — why the program shut down in the first place.
Rising rates of car ownership in the area slowly eroded the need for the PCC streetcars and they were retired in 1974. They were discarded in the Texas desert afterwards and just kind of sat there, baking beneath the Texas sun for decades while city officials tried to get their lines back up and running.
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The car renovation project got started in 2015 and three years later, in 2018, the electric streetcars were ready to carry passengers on city lines. Six of the original PCC cars were refurbished and put back into service. The modern fleet even runs on electricity that the substation produces itself, according to Sun Metro, which operates the fleet.
The cars also got some useful additions in the process, like wheelchair ramps, onboard wifi and bicycle racks. The modern streetcar lines run shorter routes than the ones in the past, though. Mostly around downtown El Paso and to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP.)
It would be awesome to have public transportation like this between the two countries again. If you’ve ever been through a border crossing in your own car, you’ll understand what I mean. It takes hours! I’m talking three to five hours on holidays, or one to two hours on a “quick” day.
Not only would these streetcars be an incredible service for people along the border. I know I’d personally much rather sit in an air-conditioned, electric streetcar with wifi than in my car. I can’t believe infrastructure on the border peaked over half a century ago, but it did.