Here’s why pop culture features so little public transportation


We don’t often see fictional characters utilizing public transportation

The Warriors did it!
The Warriors did it!!!


The “content” in television is the ads, and cars are a big honkin’ business in the good ol’ usa.

What a mind blowing insight that cars dominate the American psyche . :roll_eyes:

It depends on the city and its transit culture. NYC movies feature a lot of public transit, but that’s a town where you’ll sometimes see millionaires and celebrities on the subway.

L.A., the other big default movie setting and centre of the industry, can just as easily issue permits for filming on public transit, but it’s also the ultimate car-culture town where public transit is for the poors.

One counterpoint to L.A.'s supposed preference for private cars made itself evident during the first screenings of the movie “Her”: L.A. audiences applauded when the main character gets on a subway downtown and gets off at the beach.


There’s also the practical concern that filming on a bus or a train requires hiring some extras. There may also be space concerns–busses are bulky! A car set for a sitcom can be tucked in a corner, it’s basically two couches, a fake dash, and some bodywork. A bus probably requires going out of the studio to a backlot. Not impossible, but impractical enough that it will be avoided unless necessary.


I know it’s fun to point out your favorite public-transit movie scene, and all, but “I remember this one movie that DID have pubic transit in it” is hardly a rejoinder to the matter at hand. The few famous scenes of public transit in movies and TV that we all remember are exceptional; that’s why we all know them.

If, on the other hand, we tried to tally up the driving scenes that we remember - and the many, many more that we’ve completely forgotten because they’re so unnecessary, so banal - we’d have a big job to do. I’ve seen cooking shows with driving scenes. What? But yes.

Movies and television will often put a couple of characters in a car when the writers need a little isolated character interaction or exposition - which is to say, all the damn time. Public transit mostly is included for more specific reasons, often because it’s actually central to the plot (Speed, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three) or to lend flavor to the setting (Saturday Night Fever) or for fish-out-of-water laughs (Star Trek IV), none of which are really neutral “this is just part of ordinary life” reasons. I bet you could re-work 80% or more of popular entertainment to move the driving scenes out of the car to someplace more imaginative and the stories would be basically unchanged, perhaps improved. I’m not sure the same is true for most public transit scenes.

I suspect there are other factors beyond what the article mentions. The entertainment business is not very eager to show characters experiencing ordinary, workaday financial hardship, and public transit is (wrongly, wastefully, and destructively) associated with poverty in the suburban public mind. Also underrepresented in popular entertainment: cheap and nasty fast food, payday loans, dumpy discount and closeout stores, pedestrians struggling with hostile urban infrastructure, etc.


The task of artists is to create art, not to ‘normalize’ any particular agenda. Let the creators push their own cart.

I took BART every workday for 12 years. Now I have a four mile commute I can do in the sweet, blessed isolation of my own car (or, now and again, walk it). God willing, never again.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, there’s an entire subway station that’s used almost exclusively as a set (OK, it’s also used for deadheading, but definitely not used by transit riders).


Boston’s MBTA wouldn’t be a feasible place to shoot a movie because the equipment breaks down every day and in every way:

No way a movie company is wasting time/$ on that, on the T or any of the other catastrophically bad transit lines in this country.



One transit system that you almost NEVER see is DC’s metro, despite the fact that many movies and shows take place in DC. This despite the fact that the Washington metropolitan area has the second highest percentage of people commuting by public transit in the US. This is partly because most of those shows are shot somewhere else, and partly because WMATA has VERY strict rules to be followed to get permission to film there. For example, you can’t show people eating on the train because that is against the rules.

edited to add


Yes heaven forfend the squashing of the arteest’s pure, untainted visionary act of taking car-industry product placement money and saving location budget by filming two-handers in fake cars.


Perhaps logistics plays a part. They need to keep only crew and actors on the train or whatever. They probably need multiple takes. so the station and associated tracks need to be reserved for the duration of filming.
But they do film a great deal in stations and on platforms.

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WMATA has VERY strict rules to be followed to get permission to film there. For example, you can’t show people eating on the train because that is against the rules.

Tell that to Zoe Barnes.


Yes. Unequivocally yes.

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I think the winning argument here is class: in most places only working class and lower people take public transit, and most movies are not about them. There’s certainly been moderate budget movies made with extensive mass transit scenes, so I don’t think cost is the issue. On of my “top 5” favorites is High Fidelity, with several scenes on the Chicago El. It seems the NYC subways were more popular to film when they were graffiti covered shitholes.


I read an article (I think i read it in this very blog) about how they shot all the outdoor scenes of TV shows in studios with huge green screens and just paste the outdoor backgrounds with computers ou black magic.

Replying to myself makes me look stupid, but here is a link to an article about green screens

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Product placement shape culture in strange ways.
A good movie with buses :