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Subways Suck

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Betty Ross: The subway is probably quickest.
Bruce Banner: Me in a metal tube, deep underground with hundreds of people in the most aggressive city in the world?
Betty Ross: Right. Let's get a cab.

The message that many Sitcoms seem to send: subways (a.k.a. the Metro, the Underground) are always more trouble than they're worth. They're always breaking down and trapping characters inside for wacky, wacky antics or heart-felt learning and personal growth — in other words, you're Locked in a Room that just happens to have wheels, or trapped in a huge sideways elevator full of strangers. That's public transportation for you.

Combine this with the myriad problems with cars and you almost want to resort to going everywhere on foot, or on a bicycle. And don't even get us started on the Sinister Subway!

Could have something to do with where the entertainment is made —New York's subway is one of the oldest in the world and at various times has been so filthy as to get the nickname "The Electric Sewer", while L.A's subway (while the largest system in Southern Californianote ) is either ignored or abused by media as a setting for geological disasters (though this seems to be turning around just as the real life subway is expanding at an astonishing rate - at least for the US).

Not to be confused as a Take That! to the sandwich chain Subway.

Real Life subways that don't suck include (but are not limited to) The London Underground, New York City Subway,note  Le Métro de Montréal, Le Métropolitain (in Paris), Moscow Metro, Washington Metronote , pretty much every subway system in Japan as well as many other ones in Asia (mainly due to the benefit of being built more recently). See World Subways for details.

Compare Plane Awful Flight and Buses Are for Freaks.


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  • Iron Man: Tony Stark had to take subways while trying to lead a normal average-Joe type of life.
    Tony: I gave up limos for this?
  • Robin: Tim didn't necessarily hate the Gotham subway system but he definitely complained about having to take it before he had a car in his civilian life and after his dad sold his car since he much preferred driving.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Incident is about being stuck in a subway car with two punks who will do anything they can to insult and antagonize you, just because they can, made even worse by the fact that no other passenger will do anything to help.
  • Jacob's Ladder plays this for horror, with Jacob Singer waking up from a nightmare of his time in the The Vietnam War. The train is almost totally vacant, and Jacob's destination at Bergen Street is locked up as if the station has been abandoned, forcing him to walk through the train tunnels. Why Bergen Street is inexplicably locked is major spoiler material that is spelled out for the audience eventually.
  • In Joker (2019) Arthur is chased by detectives Garrity and Burke into a subway train filled with protesters. In a diversion to get rid of the pursuers, Arthur steals a protester's mask provoking a fight that further escalates when Burke shoots a protester, causing everyone in the train to gang up on him and Garrity while Arthur enjoys the scene and gets away.
  • Predator 2 has a subway system that is used in a Wretched Hive future Hellish L.A.. It's presented as such a sketchy place to commute that almost everyone is armed with pistols. Unfortunately, this works against everyone when they draw their weapons against gang members trying to rob a man, because The Predator starts hunting the armed passengers.
  • In The Warriors, it seems like they would be able to just take the subway home but every time they try they get jumped by another gang.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Odd Couple (1970): In the episode, "The Subway Story", Oscar and Felix are trapped in the subway with a model, a pregnant dog, and a guy who cynically pretends to be blind to make extra money selling pencils. At the end, the not-blind guy gives Felix a puppy that he names Yawbus ('Subway' backwards.)
  • Seinfeld: "The Subway" Though all four characters ride the subway during this episode, Elaine is the only one unlucky enough to be on one that stalls, delaying her arrival at a lesbian wedding.
  • Boy Meets World "Train of Fools" The train breaks down on New Year's Eve ruining everyone's exciting plans.
  • Full House had "Subterranean Graduation Blues," where Jesse misses his high school graduation because he and the others got stuck on a subway, where he manages to convince another drop-out that it's never too late to go back.
  • Family Matters, with a L-train in a Christmas episode. Steve eventually teaches the grumpy passengers the true meaning of the holidays and they make a make-shift tree.
  • The Single Guy Jonathan eventually pries open the doors and braves the filthy underground tunnels trying to make it to freedom.
  • An episode of Ugly Betty involved Justin and his parents getting caught on a broken subway on the way to see the Broadway musical "Hairspray."
  • An episode of Becker featured Becker trying to help a lost woman on the subway, thus causing him to miss his appointments. Luckily though, the subway did NOT break down in this case.
  • Third Watch is an interesting case. The premiere of Season 3 was supposed to involve Faith and Fred Yokas stuck on a subway, with Fred having a heart attack. However this plot was shelved due to 9/11, and the decision to write that into the storylines. The plot resurfaced at the end of Season 3, except in a powerless apartment building instead of a subway.
  • A My Family Christmas Episode had the characters stuck on The London Underground when the train broke down.
  • How I Met Your Mother
    • Barney rides the subway immediately after finishing a marathon. Because he didn't do any training for the marathon, his legs go completely limp the instant he sits down and he's physically incapable of leaving his seat on the train.
      Barney: I've ridden the subway twice, end to end; I've seen where it turns around. Ted, you don't ever wanna see where the subway turns around.
    • In another episode (titled "Subway Wars") announcements made by a subway conductor are completely unintelligible over the garbled intercom. Lily claims that, because she's a native New Yorker, she can "speak conductor", but her interpretation of what the conductor said is always dead wrong; after hearing the train will be down for 20 minutes due to track maintenance she gets off, and it immediately peels out.
  • Sesame Street had a song regarding this trope, appropriately titled "Subway."
  • In the Difficult People episode "Sweet Tea", Billy declares he's tired of New York, after a subway ride in which a homeless man rants about how gay people go to hell, a gay man sing-argues with him, another woman claims he's appropriating because he's singing a black woman's song, and finally a performance artist spills crickets on the train.
  • The Jessie episode "Take the A Train... I Think?" sees Jessie trying to take the subway to get Emma to Battery Park before it closes so she can finish a social studies report, with Ravi and Zuri tagging along; however, between taking several wrong trains, briefly losing the former two, and an unexpected delay, it's a lot easier said than done. Thankfully, Emma manages to finish her report anyways, using the people of varying cultures she met on the hectic trip as her focal point.

  • "The Man Who Never Returned" (or just the "MTA" song) is a song about a man who is forced to live on the subway train when he can't afford to pay an exit fare on the Boston underground. His wife didn't seem to want him out though, since she passes him a bag lunch through the window every day, but can't she slip him a couple bucks to cover the added cost?
    • This was originally written as a campaign song by a candidate (Walter O'Brien) to point out the flaws in the system, so it's actually Truth in Television (exaggerated for effect).
  • On the subject of the "T", Tom Lehrer once did a "spelling song" called "Boston" using the stops on the Red Line, which if you start at Harvard Station and travel toward downtown spell out HCKCPW (it doesn't work anymore, since the last station in that list is now called "Downtown Crossing"), which he pronounces like someone spitting. Though the last line of the song ("which is just about what Boston means to me") implies it's the city in general rather than the subway that he's disparaging.

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 
  • Some areas of the Capital Wasteland in Fallout 3 are more or less inaccessible from the surface, making traversing the decrepit pre-war metro system a necessity. The problem is that hordes of Feral Ghouls often inhabit the old tunnels, making traveling through them quite difficult. One follower in Fallout 4, who is native to the Capital Wasteland, will tell the player that he lost his wife when they sought shelter in the old subway tunnels.
  • The basic premise of Metro 2033 involves surviving a nuclear apocalypse in the relative “safety” of the Moscow Metro system. Twenty years later, when the game takes place, and the Metro is home to radical Neo-Nazis and Communists at open war with one another, horrible mutants, and ghosts. A lovely place to live!
  • The first stage of Beast Busters is set in a grimy subway station full of graffiti and zombies, and the same happens in the mobile only sequel/remake Beast Busters featuring KOF.

  • Greg runs into a bunch of foul tempered subway riders during his morning commute. They give him a widely used single fingered salute in this instance.
  • Least I Could Do devotes an arc to Rayne being forced to take the subway while his car is in the shop.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-2952 is a corgi used as a subway train by The Fair Folk. The "walls" of the subway are covered in racist graffiti, proving even the Fae aren't above vandalism.

    Western Animation 
  • Hey Arnold!: In "Das Subway", Arnold and his friends are forced to take the subway home from the movies after they miss the last bus and are unable to afford a cab. Gerald is reluctant ("You know what they say: 'sun goes down, stay above ground!'") and naturally things go wrong, up to and including the train breaking down and leaving the passengers stuck for a while.
    Helga: There is no way I'm taking the subway!
    [Smash Cut to the subway station]
    Helga: I can't believe I'm taking the subway!
  • One episode of MTV's Downtown featured a battle-of-the-sexes train race of Chaka and Mecca versus Mat and Fruity to get to Coney Island. Chaka acts impulsively and takes random trains while Mecca is too spineless to stop her. Mat looks at the maps, makes a plan and firmly sticks to it despite Fruity's complaints, but all for nothing when their train line ends abruptly due to construction. Chaka and Mecca get there first, but only by cheating and taking a cab.
  • Rocko's Modern Life, "Commuted Sentence": Rocko's car has been impounded, and he must take public transportation to get to work. Since every day is a bad day for Rocko, this does not go well, and that includes the subway. He gets trampled by a bunch of business lizards, a laid-off postal worker goes crazy in the subway car (or at least feigns insanity so he can get some "swinging room"), and the subway is stopped due to police activity. ("Today's activity is Arts and Crafts"!)
  • A strange example is on a airplane in the episode Holidays of Future Passed in The Simpsons. In the future teleporters become the normal yet Maggie is stopped from using one at an airport as she is pregnant, so she has to use the plane. The plane is falling to pieces and piloted by an Axe-Crazy man. Otherwise the plane fits negative stereotypes of subways: the interior is identical to a subway, with people cramped and standing, filthy and noisy, full of hobos, weirdos and people too poor to afford other transportation.
    • A more typical example occurs in "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson" where Bart attempts to scam a bunch of indifferent New Yorkers while riding the subway. After licking a pole, he admits defeat.
  • In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "The Clock King": Temple Fugate has his first encounter with Mayor Hill in the Gotham subway. Seven years later, he will invoke the Sinister Subway with a Big Disaster Plot.
  • In the Futurama episode "The Lesser of Two Evils", the characters visit Past-o-Rama, a historical recreation of New York City in the year 2000. One of the less-inaccurate exhibits is an absolutely filthy subway station, where Fry shows his friends how to jump the turnstile and how to curl up on two seats to sleep.
    Leela: [surveying the subway car] What's this? [sniffs] Another bathroom?
    Fry: No, it's a mobile apartment with no rent.
  • Kaeloo: In Episode 94, Kaeloo goes around the typical work day of an adult, with Mr. Cat following her around to each location to find new ways to troll her. After Mr. Cat tows her car, Kaeloo takes the subway, only to find that Mr. Cat is on the subway too, and he takes the opportunity to sing loudly and obnoxiously while playing music on a boombox knowing that Kaeloo can't do anything to stop him because it's a public space.