Del: Your mood's probably not going to improve much.
How does an author demonstrate that their character lacks the resources to use "proper" transportation such as planes, trains, or automobiles? Why, they get Put on a Bus (in the literal sense).
After the Great Depression in the United States, intercity bus ridership took off due to its relative affordability when compared to long-distance train travel. While the conversion of service to more affordable buses did help the private transit companies' bottom line, it was only a temporary relief; in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many private transit companies were folded into tax-supported publicly-operated systems.
As transit ridership decreased the public perceptions of customers changed dramatically. No longer was the typical transit rider likely to be your socially-equal neighbor; it was the weirdo who lost his eyesight in a shootout or the bum who is too lazy to get a job and become a "proper" member of American society. The popular image of The City during the late 20th century also contributed to how bus transportation was viewed; as cities tend to attract a disproportionate amount of people who stray from what society perceives as normal, and as transit ridership is highest in large cities, buses began to be perceived as full of "not normal" people.
A common variation on this trope is "leaving to make their fortune in the wide world", either by becoming a star or joining the military. It usually highlights the character getting on the bus as a wide-eyed naif who has no idea what the real world is like. If the medium is lighthearted, the naif will meet all the weirdos on the bus, and make friends or at least see them in as optimistic a light as possible. If the medium is more serious (or even Darker and Edgier), the naif will sit uneasily beside the oddballs or try to pretend they're not off-putting and unnerving.
Since the early 2000s, bus ridership, as well as the image of bus transportation, has increased positively. Compounding factors such as reinvestment in service, a newly-found focus on environmentalism, Millennials postponing getting their drivers license, as well as an aging baby boomer population reluctant to drive, have all contributed to increasing ridership. To some extent even intercity bus travel has shed its prior image; legacy operators like Greyhound as well as new entrants such as Megabus compete on factors such as internet availability and express routes that don't stop in every farming village with three people.
While buses are most commonly portrayed in a negative light, other modes of public transportation have been derided before. Additionally, this trope focuses on a US-centric viewpoint of public transportation; as for various reasons buses have historically been viewed in a more positive light in other nations, this trope tends to be downplayed or outright nonexistent in fiction originating from outside the United States.
This trope applies only if the character or surrounding transit ridership is portrayed as removed from the norm. A bus full of clean, professionally dressed office workers doesn't count for this trope.
- General Motors. GM ran advertisements in Vancouver, BC promoting the Chevy Cavalier in 2003. The destination sign above the windshield reads "Creeps & Weirdos", a not-so-subtle dig at common preconceptions of transit users. Due to public outcry about the implied offense against bus riders, the advertisement was pulled shortly afterwards.
- Starburst Fruit Chews. An advertisement titled "Bored to Death" revolves around a conversation on the bus between a zombie and another rider with bagpipes. Watch it here.
- This trope is nowhere near as pronounced in Britain as it is in the USA and a bit of Values Dissonance appears to be going on. However, Jasper Carrott does a stand-up routine on how, every time he gets on a bus, he appears to have a neon sign invisible to everybody except The Nutter On The Bus, to whom it is an invitation to sit down next to Carrott - even if every seat on the bus is otherwise free.
- Paul Kirchner's comic strip "The Bus", initially published in Heavy Metal, depicts a nondescript middle-aged bus commuter getting into various surreal situations.
- The Doctor Who Magazine comic strip story "Bus Stop" has a nameless bus passenger initially thinking that the Tenth Doctor is a random lunatic sat next to him, until alien mayhem erupts.
- Lost Luggage and Lost Souls by Nemo the Everbeing is set on a bus station, filled to the brim with people who wait for the bus. Not included in the description: bored cops, Seventh and Ace, the mob, and so on, and so forth:
There were the old bikers who didn't want to travel that far on a motorcycle, the hippies who didn't have cars, the old ladies whose licenses had been revoked. Then, there were the vets, the students, the trailer trash, and one mother with small children. She had a black eye, and Mike didn't doubt she was running from some man.
- In the film Adventures in Babysitting: Chris' friend Brenda has run away from home, and is waiting for Chris at the bus station to pick her up. While Chris and the kids are getting into dangerous and zany hijinks, Brenda is having her own misfortunate adventures at the gross and creepy bus station.
- In Attack of the Clones, after two close attempts to kill Senator Amidala on Coruscant she decides to retreat to her home world of Naboo. However, instead of a gleaming royal yacht, she and Jedi Skywalker take the Star Wars equivalent of a Greyhound shuttle, arriving on Naboo with other morose plebes.
- The Craft has this exchange as the four girls get off a public bus at the beach to go do a ritual:
Bus Driver: You girls watch out for those weirdos.
Nancy: [looking over her glasses] We are the weirdos, mister.
- David from Keep the Change (2017) is reluctant to take the bus because the homeless people creep him out. When he finally boards the bus towards the end to talk to Sarah, it's a sign that he's starting to overcome his hatred of weirdness.
- Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Neal and Del have to resort to Greyhound after their train breaks down. A couple in the adjacent row makes out passionately, with the woman reaching across the center aisle to Neal. Intercity bus travel fits in with the eccentric nature of Del, but is contrary to the conservative character of Neal.
- At one point in their Sisyphean quest to reach the airport and flee the country, the bank-robber protagonists in Quick Change are forced into riding a city bus full of oddballs, along with a Lawful Stupid driver.
- In Speed, passenger Annie Potts has to take the wheel of her bus after the driver is shot. Among the characters onboard are those people who don't own cars in Los Angeles: Hector Ortiz (a mechanic), Stephens (a tourist wanting to see the city), and a trigger-happy gang-banger. Annie has to keep the bus at 50mph or it will explode. Oh, the reason Annie was on the bus? She lost her license for habitual speeding. As a subversion to this trope, the passengers become Fire-Forged Friends from working to outsmart the ransom-terrorist Howard Payne.
- In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Kirk and Spock are riding a San Francisco bus with a mohawked punk with a boom box. When Kirk asks if the punk will turn it down, the punk flips him the bird, and cranks the volume up even louder. Spock does the logical thing and Vulcan neck-pinches the guy, turns the boombox off, and the rest of the riders applaud.
- The Sure Thing: After Gib gets into the shared-ride car and finds Allison, she says "I knew I should have taken the bus", and he says "What, and get stuck sitting next to some sleaze bag?" Sure enough, when they do go to a bus station, there are dirty homeless people sleeping on the benches.
- In Bloodsucking Fiends, Jody ends up on a bus shortly after her vampiric transformation, and this trope is in full force, exemplified by the flasher.
- Emily the Strange: The Lost Days: Earwig thinks so, at least those who ride the Red Rabbit bus, in particular Sofronia Peabody Chucklebottom.
- Harry Potter: The one time Harry takes The Knight Bus, it's full of odd and colorful characters (including the driver). The Film of the Book takes this idea and runs with it. Mundungus Fletcher, who was pretty much unsavory as a career choice, rode it on the regular.
- Stranger Things: Runaway Max: Subverted. Although Max doesnt get on the bus, the San Diego bus station isnt the safest place for a preteen girl to be going, especially at night. Complete with shady people, the smell of alcohol and tired employees. So the buses likely arent much better.
- In Unseen Academicals, the Night Bus to Sto Lat has passengers who can't afford the fancy stagecoach, described as "the sort of people who'd brought their own dinner in a paper bag". This being Discworld, however, they're portrayed positively.
- On All My Children, fed up with her father not letting her see her mother, then-8-year old Bianca Montgomery runs away from home and hops a cross country bus that takes her from Seattle to Pine Valley. Her mother Erica is aghast that "my daughter rode across the country on a bus!" It seems elitist of her, but considering the length of the trip, Bianca's young age, and the fact that she was indeed harassed by a creep throughout the trip, her outrage is completely understandable.
- In the Broad City episode "Destination: Wedding", the main characters board a bus to Connecticut filled with highly shady folks, one of whom proceeds to upset a tray of full of fish on Abbi.
- In the Doctor Who serial "Ghost Light", the Doctor's list of things he hates includes cruelty, tyranny, unrequited love, ... and bus stations: "Terrible places full of lost luggage and lost souls."
- Everybody Loves Raymond. Invoked in "Big Shots," where Ray says he doesn't want to drive four hours with Robert because his feet smell, but when Marie suggests taking a bus, Ray retorts, "A bus? That's a smelly feet convention!"
- How I Met Your Mother:
- When Lily is recounting how great her summer in San Francisco was, she says that even just riding the bus was like "a human tapestry" and viewers get flashbacks to all the interesting people she met on the bus. The episode later shows the truth... that all of those "interesting people" was a single insane man with multiple personalities.
- It's mentioned in a different episode that there's always at least one crazy person on the bus at any given time. If you can't figure out who it is, it's you.
- The In Betweeners has the titular insufferable immature jerks letting it go to their collective head when they finally get access to a car. Driving down the street, they cannot resist leaning out of the car windows and jeering at people waiting for the bus. Unfortunately, shortly after yelling "BUS WANKERS!" at people in the queue, they can go no further before being caught in standing traffic. A rather large man who had been in the bus queue strolls unhurriedly down the street to point out he isn't greatly impressed.
- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. After Mac and Charlie wreck her car, Dee is reduced to riding the bus. The driver is rude, it's cramped, and she can't get off because it's so crowded. When she tries to talk to another passenger to get him to move out of her way, he just vomits on himself and doesn't even move.
- 11 seasons later, she decides to take the bus again, this time in an attempt to be eco-friendly. In an impressive feat of casting, she runs into the same passenger.
- The Fatima Mansions' song "Only Losers Take the Bus" takes the form of an unhinged rant by someone who believes this (check the title) and protests a little too strongly that he's not one of them.
- Jonathan Richman's song "You're Crazy for Taking the Bus" is a little more ambivalent than its title suggests. Jonathan admits that long-distance bus travel is disgusting, but he likes it for the people-watching (and because air travel is even worse.)
- "Weird Al" Yankovic:
- His song "Another One Rides The Bus" (parodied from the Queen song "Another One Bites The Dust") portrays the bus as being smelly and crowded, and makes mentions of bums, perverts and freaks riding it.
- "Jackson Park Express" is told from the perspective of one such freak, a guy who falls in Love at First Sight with a woman on the bus, and then the relationship quickly progresses to him wearing her skin. The relationship is all in his head, though.
- IDGet. One gag strip shows Strawberry Shortcake clearly uncomfortable taking the bus, as other passengers gather around her to smell her hair.
- Someone Stole My Panties. In one strip, Mosi fawns over a cute guy she sees on the bus - which doesn't go unnoticed by him; after she gets off at her stop, he thinks to himself what a weirdo she is.
- Arthur. Invoked in "Lost!", where Buster and Francine fear for Arthur when they learn he's taking a city bus down town to the public pool for his swimming lessons - Buster heard of a bus who picked up a passenger and never made anymore stops before blasting off into outer space, while Francine heard of a kid who was never allowed off the bus for not having enough fare. Arthur becomes understandably nervous when he finally boards the bus, and is a little uncomfortable to see every single one of the other passengers are adults preoccupied with reading the paper.
- Gravity Falls: Dipper and Mabel arrive by bus to visit Grunkle Stan. But when he tries to send them home in part one of the first season finale, he sends them by bus because it's all he can afford, having lost the Mystery Shack to Gideon's evil machinations. To emphasize the grossness of the bus, Mabel tries to cheer up Dipper by playing a game of identifying the stains under the bus seats.
- The Simpsons tends to make fun of public transporation. There's Homer Simpson's refusal to ride the bus because they tend to be full of, in his view, "jerks and lesbians". Ironically, because of this, Marge is able to find him easier in "El Viage de Mysterioso de Nuestro Jomer". Then there's "Lost Our Lisa", where Lisa gets lost after attempting to travel to a museum by bus because it went a different route and she was forced to get off in an unknown place by the Jerkass bus driver.
- Unfortunately, there is a real-life basis for this trope, considering that sexual harassment is a major problem on public transportation even in developed countries.
- Greyhound, the dominant intercity bus company in the United States, has been referred to as the poor mans' 4-feet-high, 65 mph airline. Due to the less stringent security buses feature, with minimal to non-existent identification checks as well as basically no screening of the passengers or their luggage, buses are often used to move significant amounts of illicit drugs. See more here.
- Despite the uncharacteristic nature of the event, a gruesome, random murder on a Canadian long-distance bus in 2008 confirmed a lot of people's prejudices.
- Due to the poor service frequency as well as meandering routes, bus ridership on suburban local buses is often primarily people without access to a vehicle. This can range from repeat DUI offenders to students to the physically disabled - the common thread being that due to their social status, they are effectively forced to use public transit while the norm is car travel.
- Amtrak's long distance trains have a similar reputation to Greyhound, especially in the coach classes, as they serve rural areas along their routes and have little security.
- This is subverted more or less in California despite a major car culture in the state:
- Car ownership in Southern California is still highly expected, if not required but attitudes towards busses have softened. Highway congestion and the increasing cost of fuel are major concerns. One of the advantages of the long-distance routes is that they are able to use express-lanes at rush hour to bypass much of the congestion, and in some cases, the travel time can be no worse or faster than by car. Express routes naturally focus on limited stops and travel to major hot spot destinations.
- Also, due to emission regulations changing over time and the increasing complexity of cars (increasing maintenance overhead), the advantages are increasing for using the bus more often due to mitigating or even eliminating the time and money spent maintaining a vehicle. This became lampshaded by Riverside County's RTA who periodically offers a $0.25 promotional bus fare and encourages drivers to give their buses a try.
- Dial-A-Ride type services are another major subversion, especially catering to seniors and people with disabilities. As a result, these services are very accommodating and only available to eligible riders (depending on the local regulations).