Stop Throwing People Under the Bus

MASS TRANSIT TALK-A disturbing phrase has taken hold in the American vernacular. It needs to stop. “Thrown under the bus,” is used to describe a dishonorable act when someone has been unfairly treated, deceived, wrongly accused, sacrificed for the unjust or unethical benefit of others, rejected, denied due process, or other acts of harm and betrayal. 


Physically, to be thrown under the bus is not the same as being stabbed in back, but being “thrown under the bus” seems to have replaced that very old phrase. To stab someone is a direct personal and deliberate attack with an implement designed for bodily harm, a knife or dagger. It is a cowardly violent act since the attacker sneaks up on victims and does not look them in the face. 

To be thrown under a bus is different. It requires a great deal of strength, first to capture and hold the person until the bus arrives, and then to throw that person down in front of the moving bus. This would be more strenuous than stabbing someone in the back. A bus, unlike a knife or dagger, is not made to be an implement of harm, but rather, of good. Riding a bus is a communal act, moving many travelers across a city in an inexpensive fashion. It’s not designed to accidentally run over people or to have people thrown under it.  

Obviously, these are metaphors for violent acts of betrayal. But why has “thrown under the bus” become a phrase denoting “stabbed in the back?”  

I am a bus rider, regularly riding buses since 1992 throughout the Los Angeles region. I have ridden the buses of multiple agencies, including Culver City, Metro and Santa Monica. I have traveled tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousand miles on thousands of buses. I have ridden them at all hours of the day and night, in all types of weather. In all the time, after all the miles, on all those buses, I have never, ever, experienced a bus driving over someone in an accident, or due to the purposeful act of someone being “thrown under the bus.”  

Why would this horrible phrase, being “thrown under the bus,” appear in the common lexicon and gain traction and use? The act itself does not happen. People have been tragically fallen from train platforms into oncoming trains. These are horrible accidents (or crimes), but the common phrase used is not “thrown under the train,” but rather, “thrown under the bus.” Vehicles injure and kill a great number of people. In 2014, 700 people were killed in California because of being run over by cars. 

So why is the common phrase not “thrown under the car?” Why is the bus demonized? 

I ride buses and trains because I worry about the environment. In 1992, when I started riding the bus, it was air pollution that prompted me to leave my car behind. My concerns about air pollution remain; in recent years, the gains made to reduce air pollution have been backsliding. Those worries are now compounded by the specter of climate change, global warming, and the destruction of a stable environment. 

Most people are aware of climate change. Its “deniers” can try to refute the science of it, but if one lives in the Los Angeles Basin, air pollution cannot be denied. Governments and environmentalists repeatedly stress that the fastest way to reduce air pollution and reduce the creation of global warming carbon gases is to drive less.  

My belief is that the phrase “thrown under the bus” arose from people unwilling to confront the idea that to avoid killing the environment they must drive less and use alternative modes of transportation.  

We must lose the car culture mindset and adopt alternative forms of transportation. In spread-out Los Angeles, the most logical solution is riding mass transit -- and in Los Angeles, more than likely that means riding buses

It is much easier to deny the threat of climate change than it is to think through the idea that “carbon gases from my tailpipe make air pollution and global warming gases.” And to reduce this menace, a personal change must be made.  

Electric cars are fine, but according to the Los Angeles Times  they make up less that 3% of vehicles in California. 

To convert California’s entire rolling stock of over thirty-million vehicles from internal combustion engines to electric motors will take many decades. We may not have that much time to make meaningful reductions in carbon gases to avoid the environmental dangers we now face. 

The quickest way to make meaningful change in reducing carbon gases is to start riding mass transit, namely, buses. To avoid changing their ways, people demonize buses, sometimes saying that one could be “thrown under” a bus. But this is a lie. It simply does not happen. Yet the phrase has been adopted by many people who are afraid to even think of changing their driving habits.   

As a bus rider, it is a very comforting sight to see a bus approaching a stop. Compared to the insanity of driving in Los Angeles (even though I have a car but only drive as a last option) I am in a safe haven when I’m on a bus. Incidentally, we now know that drivers in Los Angeles lose over 100 hours a year looking for parking. When riding a bus, parking is never an issue. 

Riding the bus is not perfect. But sitting in gridlock on a freeway or street for hours is also not perfect. Driving is stressful, a fact that is confirmed by studies that show the negative health effects of driving. These include heart disease, high blood pressure, loss of sleep and psychological depression.   

It is time to confront reality: our driving habits and worship of the car culture are leading to environmental ruin. Demonizing buses is not the answer to this problem.  

So, let’s stop throwing people under the bus.


(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native. He is a transit rider and advocate, a composer, music instructor, and member and president and executive director of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.