An article over at Mobility Lab got me scratching my head with this: “When public transportation makes a rare silver-screen appearance, it’s often the butt of a joke.”
How rare are the silver-screen, or, for that matter, small-screen appearances of public transportation? It’s not hard for me to think of movies that have scenes set on public transportation, and not all of those make where the actors put their butts a joke. And then I thought a little harder and it occurred to me that pretty much every movie and most of the TV shows I can think of that has at least one scene set in public transportation has another thing in common: New York. The major exception would be The Fugitive—the film, not the TV show, in which Chicago’s “L” train is an important element in at least two different scenes. So it’s not surprising that the article notes that New York’s subway system averaged one filming request per day just in the first two weeks of February and the Chicago Transit Authority allowed 152 in 2017. There must be a lot of filming on Chicago trains and buses that I’m missing.
Meanwhile most movies and TV shows set on the west coast—Los Angeles specifically—depend on cars because the LA public transportation system is, from what I’ve heard, an even bigger joke than the traffic-clogged freeways. I have ridden a free bus around Long Beach, but it only went about five blocks before I had to pay so I got off, but that’s another story.
I get it. I’m even sympathetic. One of the reasons I write about my adventures in busing is because I hope to encourage more people to ride buses. As the article says,
Featuring public transportation on TV shows and movies normalizes it. Characters riding public transportation makes transit another setting – a place where life happens. Seeing it on screen makes it easier to envision it in your life.
And I don’t want to sound like a starry-eyed idealist but I think public transportation helps create a sense of community. I’m not just talking about making places accessible. And I’m not saying you have to strike up conversations with strangers on buses, but public transportation gives you an idea what other peoples’ lives are like.
At the same time I sometimes need to get away. Sometimes I need to go to places that aren’t easily accessible, where there aren’t other people around, and I know other people feel that way too. That’s one reason I also drive. Right now Nashville is considering expanding its public transportation, but I think there are reasons we have not so great system we have that aren’t completely accidental. There’s a lot to be gained from better public transportation, but there are some important things we’d also lose.