INSTEAD OF CARS, Terence Bendixson, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, revised edition 1977.
In some ways this book is predictable, producing as it does the well known arguments against cars and in favour of buses, bicycles and so on. Perhaps the anti-car lobby has had so much of its own way in the media that it is starting to suffer from over-exposure. However, this book is different in that it presents its case without being too starry-eyed. Energy specialists will be pleased to see, for example, that while the extravagance of fuel consumption of cars comes in for criticism, the author points out that a Mini carrying four people is more economical than a coach carrying twelve, on which basis three Minis are to be preferred to one bus. As another example, dwellers in the wetter parts of the world will be relieved to see that while bicycles may be excellent in the flat dry eastern counties of England, the author admits that they may be anything but excellent in the rainy hills of Scotland and Wales. In short, while the book is admittedly biased, it is eminently reasonable.
The book also avoids some of the other well known prejudices of the anti-car lobby. Discussing the transport of passengers by train, the author is quite severe on the inflexibility of all forms of railways, although he emphasizes quite properly the importance of goods traffic by rail. Interestingly, he dismisses canals in less than a page, regarding them as being suitable only for fun.
A considerable amount of space is devoted to taxis and self-drive hire cars, both the existing types and the more futuristic. This is particularly interesting in that it shows a willingness to accept and to meet the obvious demand for private transport, while easing the parking problem in cities, and incidentally improving the utilization of capital. All too often, self-drive hire cars are regarded as the playthings of the jet-set, and in drawing attention to their legitimate role as a form of ‘public’ transport, the book does a worthwhile service.
Buses are thoroughly investigated. Schemes for improving the flow of buses through towns are illustrated by numerous examples, and technical developments such as radio communication with drivers are described in detail. Once again, the author’s balanced, though committed, viewpoint is shown by his quite severely critical account of the over-done anti-car measures in Nottingham.
The sources from which the information is derived are many and various, and for the most part authoritative. Not all are wholly so, however. For example, there appears (p. 76) to be a contradiction of the First Law of Thermodynamics in advocating underpasses for cyclists who may then ‘wheeee down into the slight dip and whizzzz up the other side… Gravity is servant, not master.’
In summary, this book is a satisfactory popular treatment of its subject, very readable and well worth its small price. But it has not persuaded me to sell my car, and on the basis of the evidence presented here, I expect to be driving it (or its successors) for a very long time to come.