In 1980, scientist, writer and broadcaster Magnus Pyke published a book, Our Future: Dr Magnus Pyke Predicts. I read it with interest as a ten-year-old, and again forty years later. So, how did he think we would be travelling around in 2030?
The problems created by private cars were just as clear in 1980 as now: “in urban areas motor cars pollute the atmosphere, clog the streets with traffic jams when they are in motion and when parked by the road-side are generally a nuisance.”
Car safety improvements have mostly followed Pyke’s predictions, with self-locking retractable seatbelts and crumple zones protecting occupants in a crash. However, he didn’t believe there would be political support for compulsory wearing of seatbelts.
The problem of pollution might be solved by powering cars with flywheels, electricity from fuel cells, or hydrogen from petrol or paraffin; efficiency might be improved by further development of Stirling or gas-turbine steam engines. However, Pyke concluded that “in the main motor cars are going to run on petrol, diesel or bottled gas in the foreseeable future.” He was right: even when we reach the tipping point in sales of new electric vehicles, we will be at least fifteen years away from all vehicles on the road being electric.
As for mass transit, Pyke considered networks of passenger conveyor belts, maglev trains, vacuum tubes (think Hyperloop) and airships, but ended up opining, “If we could provide a bus service that was adequate, frequent and punctual, more motorists – whether today or fifty years hence – would be happy to leave their cars at home.” Amen to that. Pyke also saw a future for smaller, electric buses, running without a driver on guideways next to roads and railways, operating to a timetable at peak times and like a taxi off-peak. That might still come to pass.
Perhaps Pyke’s most accurate prediction was that “bicycle power will once again become important in its own right.” Even the idea of “cyclomotives”, in which all passengers are expected to pedal, is not completely outlandish: the Dutch do have such cycle-buses for the school run.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 1 January 2020.