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. 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, Millenials 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 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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, the boombox turns off, and the rest of the riders applaud.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Bloodsucking Fiends, Jody ends up on a bus shortly after her vampiric transformation, and this trope is in full force, exemplified by the flasher.
- Harry Potter: the one time Harry takes The Knight Bus, it's full of odd and colorful characters. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- "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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- Aversion, especially in college towns and larger cities. Due to the higher cost of driving and parking in dense cities, as well as the number of households that voluntarily choose not to own a car, bus ridership is often more reflective of the middle class as a whole. Bus services in suburbs often serve as feeder services for more "respectable" transit services like commuter trains, so they will be more often full of white-collar professionals who want to avoid the hassles of driving and finding a parking place.
- A common benchmark of mental development in the late 1940s was that a nine-year-old child should be able to independently take the city bus to their Everytown, America city's downtown, such as to the central library, and return home without requiring the direct assistance of adults. (Now a Forgotten Trope outside of Kid Coms and the like with the Stranger Danger concerns of The '80s onward.)
- 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.
- Amtrak's long distance trains have this reputation, especially in the coach classes, as they serve rural areas along their routes.