There's Nothing Wrong With Cars—They're Just Misused

Cars and trucks are rarely the best tools for the purposes that we use them for.

Man cycling on red bicycle in street with movement
Dimitri Otis / Getty Images.

The internal combustion engine—and the various vehicle types powered by it—is, in many ways, a marvel of human ingenuity. Harnessing tiny explosions to create useful, mechanical energy is no mean feat. So we should probably give credit where credit is due.

The problem isn’t the technology itself: it’s just where, how, and how often we use it. (And the fact that we fail to recognize when better alternatives have arrived.)

I was thinking about this fact when I came across a fun little video from Cyclescheme, a United Kingdom-based employee-benefits program that helps employers promote cycling, and employees to spread out and reduce the cost of acquiring a bike: 

Cyclescheme explains its model:

Cyclescheme removes the cost barriers that may stop you from cycling. Through the scheme, you can get what you need to cycle commute (a bike, a bike and accessories, or accessories only) and save 25-39% on the cost. There’s no interest-fees, nothing to upfront and no credit checks. The only requirement? That your employer is signed up to the scheme – that’s because Cyclescheme is a workplace benefit.

At a time when transportation choices are too often seen as yet another extension of our culture wars, there’s something refreshing about focusing on a simple, hard-to-deny truth: cars and trucks are rarely the best tools for the purposes that we use them for. According to Cyclescheme, citing the Department for Transport, roughly 60% of car journeys in the U.K. are under 5 miles.

Whether it’s the London plumber who conducts 95% of his business by bike, the parents who are ditching minivans for some pedal-powered alternatives, or the logistics companies who are realizing the power of the bike, there are plenty of examples of institutions and individuals alike waking up to this fact. In 2020 alone, e-bike sales outsold electric car sales in the U.K., according to the Bicycle Association. And as more of us explore bike-based transportation, decent bike infrastructure is much more likely to follow, and vice versa

Again, the internal combustion engine, and cars in general, are not a failure of engineering or design. In fact, they have and still do represent a huge boost in terms of mobility for many who would otherwise be stuck at home.

Our society’s overreliance on them, however, is a failure of the imagination, a failure of politics, and a failure of planning. As calls to ban most cars from our cities grow, let’s remember to focus attention on the huge upsides that such bans would bring—namely a renaissance of enjoyable, effective, efficient, equitable, and human-scale transportation.