The Future Killed Buses: Megacities in Desperate Need of Public Transport

Sci-fi films often feature public transport – think of the scene of the armoured bus going through angry, violent neighbourhoods in Children of Men, the Maglev bombings in Caprica, or the TNT-laden subway train in V for Vendetta. OK, so come to think of it, public transport may not be or ‘pleasant’, or ‘safe’, or ‘not exploding’, but it’s there.

But the need for public transport seems inversely proportional to how much it actually exists – the larger and more sprawling a city, the less likely it will have a functioning transportation system. How do people in these sprawling dystopias get to work? Go shopping? Visit family? The following megacities could really do with a tram line or two…

2019, Los Angeles, Blade Runner

As we all know, Blade Runner is not supposed to be set in a very pleasant world – it’s a vaguely anarchic, corporate-run affair where people would rather shoot you in the face than make small talk (I’m assuming). So we can’t expect sensible civic planners who care about clean air, pleasing architecture, or city parks.

Or not having giant towers belching flames into the sky. Whatever.

But Los Angeles in 2019 is absolutely fucking huge, and – unlike the near-empty world of Philip K. Dick’s short story – very densely populated. Seriously, pretty much every time Deckard turns around he winds up elbowing twelve people in the face.

Poor cling-film wearing women have to literally step over traffic to get around, and you basically have to be a replicant to perform the acrobatics necessary to navigating the street. Yet the only transport we see are flying cars and bicycles – I know LA isn’t famous for providing decent public transit, but we don’t see so much as a single flying bus.

To top it all off, walking would really suck considering it never seems to stop raining.

RECOMMENDED TRANSIT SYSTEM: A subway network (to keep hapless citizens dry), and the aforementioned – flame-retardant – flying buses. They might squash a few dozen people whenever they need to land, but no-one expects future LA to be perfect.

2044: Kansas City, Looper

Now, I mentioned Kansas City’s weird lack of public transport in a previous article, so not much needs adding here. The city is run by shady crime lords, and they tend not to make the best urban developers.

(Even if they do have some dedicated graffiti artists)

What I will bring up is this: every street seems to be pretty much devoid of all traffic, all the time. In most of the urban scenes characters are able to walk down the centre of the road, or drive whilst high on shitty drugs – without ever having to worry about being hit by a car.

Which in many ways makes it a utopia. But we have to assume that the city doesn’t have public transport because people don’t travel. Ever.

Is that really possible? When 2044 rolls around I’m moving to Kansas City with nothing but aspiration and a flat-bed pick-up truck, where I’ll offer rides for 50 cents and a promise not to kill me. Then we’ll know.

RECOMMENDED TRANSIT SYSTEM: Me with a cart. Or failing that, trams. The streets are totally fucking empty, so any road-based transport would do quite well (perhaps with armoured shells to stop cars full of drugged-up loopers slamming into them).

2054: Washington DC, Minority Report

This one is a little different, due to the fact that Washington DC has a subway system – both in reality and in the film. And it looks exactly the same as public transport does today: you can practically smell the urine and commuter tears.

It’s no different – there’s a plain old on-rails subway car, rattling along in much the same manner subway cars have since they were first built in Victorian London. You can even hear the rattling of the wheels in the background. So if Washington DC has functioning (if old-fashioned) public transit, why in good Satan’s hell does it need this:

That – that looks expensive.

Insanely expensive. City bankrupting expensive. I understand that magnetically-levitated cars look cool, but why does that highway need to go sideways? So the drivers get that extra degree of exciting nausea? So that a breakdown results in a car full of occupants plummeting to their deaths? And sure, elevated roads might save on space, but at the expense of blocking out the sun to the streets below them.

Most importantly, why couldn’t that maglev technology be used on the subway, allowing regular non-maglev-car-purchasing folk to travel at decent speeds? Do the city planners really hate poor people that much?

RECOMMENDED TRANSIT SYSTEM: maglev subway – it’d also double as useful protection against plummeting cars. Or perhaps just fill all those elevated highways with water – they’d make for some amazing waterslides.

2263: New York, The Fifth Element

I love this film, and have ever since I first saw it at an excitable, stupid twelve year old – and that’s because New York in 2263 is cool. Really, really fucking cool. I mean, just look at it:

They’ve even used 20th Century architecture on their unimaginably tall buildings. Who the hell maintains that miles-long drainpipe on the right there? They must be fucking awesome!

Having said all that, the city would be an absolute fucking nightmare to live in. There are no trams, monorails, maglevs or buses, so you have to learn to drive in three full-on dimensions. Left and right turns on crowded junctions can be hard enough, but up and down turns?

Good luck. You can’t even walk around, as the lower levels seem to be covered in an eerie, probably poisonous smog. Elevator rides would take days. The casualties from drunk driving (or simply running out of fuel) would number in the thousands. We even see the cars spouting exhaust so good luck, you know, breathing. Plus, how the hell do people hail Bruce Willis’ cab? This is literally the worst transportation system I’ve ever seen anywhere, and I include both Italy and Connecticut in that.

RECOMMENDED TRANSIT SYSTEM: Anything. Absolutely fucking anything would be better than things as they are. Flying buses, monorails, hell – even a fleet of those flying Chinese restaurant boat things would do.

Perhaps in the future megacities public transport is simply a forgotten art, like chimney sweeping or plague. But there’s one notable exception in all of this: Mega City One from the Judge Dredd franchise, which explicitly has a maglev train system. C’mon, if the worst city in sci-fi history can manage to transport people in metal tubes, the rest of you better pull your finger out.

Do it for the environment. Do it to help reduce congestion. Do it for the poor cling-film clad women.

  • virtualchristine

    Virtualchristine, old lady metaverse blogger here! Okay you elongated whippersnapper, say what you will about Ridley Scott, or a pack of children who made movies loooong after I stopped noticing there was a film industry, but I DRAW THE LINE at Luc Besson. I will now demolish your feeble arguments with my rapier like wit- engarde!!
    1)Get a grip. It’s 2263; obviously they have warp speed nano plumbers.
    2) At your, um, how to put this delicatley, “level” the idea of mastering any continual series of up and down motions is probably the stuff of nightmares; but for the rest of us, how to put this delicatley, “grounded” individuals, it holds no special terrors. Try hunching a bit, or walking in ditches.
    3)If you could live on the ground, they wouldn’t need the flying cars and tall buildings in the first place, would they smarty pants?
    4)Elevator rides take days now. You aren’t very observant, are you?
    5) The death rate when they run out of fuel or fly drunk would be enormous, but think of the money saved on things like hospitals and paramedics- all that society would need would be robot scrapers and hoses. Maybe even genetically engineered vultures. Again Besson’s vision triumphs.
    6)They would lean out the window and scream “TAXI!” You have a Ph.D in what?
    You are a good writer, and a worthy opponent. Just stay away from Luc, and the noosphere will be big enough for the two of us.Until next time, Adieu

    • Redfern Jon Barrett

      Hahah a worthy opponent indeed. I wish I was a warp speed nano plumber!

      • virtualchristine

        Don`t we all, my dear!

  • George Ramos

    SciFi movies and books are products of their times and try for a cool factor to get you to buy that movie ticket or book.
    Buses & subways will still be with us in 100 years for public transport. Trams and elevators to link up parts of an archology yup I can see that. Don’t forget the humble bicycle for personal transportation. It ain’t glamorous but Otis elevators, buses, subaways and bikes are here to stay