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The Pop Culture Verdict: Transit Is Hip

Several decades ago, public transit was a distinctly low-quality way of getting around. Now, if we can believe TV and movies depicting the near future, all that has changed. Transit has become aspirational.
April 29, 2016, 9am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Asian and European entertainment often depicts subways, buses, even high-speed rail as part of the fabric of daily living, without comment or irony. We aren't quite there yet, but according to Alex Marshall, the American consciousness around public transportation has shifted since the 1970s. Now it's cool. 

Marshall begins with a quote from Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (published in 1974), classifying public transit alongside G.I. shoes and basic cereals: as the essence of "square," of "bad quality."

That perception has changed. "Pirsig's comment highlighted for me the gradual transformation in how we regard public transportation. It is now seen as part of an urban lifestyle, and this has affected how it is portrayed in popular culture. Public transportation now symbolizes not a quality-less realm but the contrary, a sign of the good life or a thrilling component of a possible future."

In modern movies and TV like "Human Target," "Mr. Robot," and Her, the near future is a time of gleaming trains. To many of us, good public transportation has become something to aspire to. "Because it's about more than tracks and trains. It's about the definition of how you want your city to be; it's about quality in the Pirsig sense." 

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Published on Tuesday, April 5, 2016 in Governing
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