Many women do not feel safe on Metro buses and trains, and while other municipal agencies did not conduct their surveys, this unease from women would also apply to those other agencies and their buses.
Women represent 50% of Los Angeles County residents. From the study,“Although women made up the majority of bus riders in 2019 — at 53% — they accounted for only 49% of riders this year, according to the customer experience survey. The percent of women on Metro train lines also fell, though only by 2 percentage points, to 44%. Compared to all respondents, female riders were more likely to cite safety as the top issue on which they wanted Metro to make improvements.”
This must be addressed for the safety of women, for the overall safety of all riders, and to have Metro live up to a great promise of an efficient transit system in vehicle obsessed and gridlocked Los Angeles. This is particularly true for Metro Rail, the Los Angeles County wide network of subways and light rail trains.
Further from a study, “Metro’s 2022 Customer Experience Survey was conducted between March and May 2022. A total of 12,239 surveys were taken on board Metro buses, trains, and Metro Micro vehicles, reflecting a 63 percent response rate.”
What is safety for women transit riders? From the survey:
“The top five improvements female rail customers want Metro to make:
- Safety from crime, sexual harassment, or racial or ethnic harassment
- Cleaner trains
- Homelessness issues on trains
- Cleaner stations
- Trains to arrive on time.
The top five improvements female bus customers want Metro to make:
- Safety from crime, sexual harassment, or racial or ethnic harassment
- Buses to arrive on time
- More frequent service
- Homelessness issued on buses
- Cleaner buses
The first priority for women transit riders is very clear. This feeling of safety has been decreasing over the years. The survey on the decrease of women transit riders does not include those women who left transit riding before the survey, nor those leaving after the survey, so the percentage is even greater.
To provide safety there must be a presence of authority who will keep a safe, orderly, maintained and controlled experience while riding transit. Not a stifling police culture, but some kind of feeling of safety when riding transit but without it being a police-state.
On Metro Rail this authority has been LAPD and Los Angeles County Sheriff. Before the COVID Shutdown which resulted in decreased ridership, LAPD and LASD were a fairly constant presence on light rail and subways, on the stations and in the trains. This was a deterrent.
With the return of some kind of living with COVID, transit ridership is increasing, but I do not see the pre-COVID police presence, and women are leaving riding transit.
Some raise the issue that having the police on board trains makes them nervous. They make me nervous. Without question there has been, and remains, police abuse, particularly towards people of color. This must be addressed and eliminated. I understand people’s uneasiness around the police, but when a needed authority figure is absent, a vacuum appears. This vacuum was filed in with increases of bad, unruly behavior from some transit riders which leads to that unsafe feeling for women riding transit.
Metro is undertaking a transition to a more holistic policing practice, which is needed. Metro has started a pilot program on the new Crenshaw-K Line of using non-police greeters and ambassadors.
From the Metro website in response to safety issues:
- Launched the Metro Ambassador Program to improve the overall customer experience for all Metro riders while navigating the system. A total of 55 Transit Ambassadors have been trained in everything from customer service to trauma informed response and mental health awareness and disability awareness and deployed on parts of the system. The goal is to deploy 300 ambassadors by February 2023.
- Doubling homeless outreach teams to assist those in need.
- On-boarding crisis intervention teams for those in need of mental health assistance.
These are good and needed steps into making transit riding a safe experience for women, and all riders.
What exactly will the ambassadors do?
Will they make sure riders do not eat on the trains which is an ongoing problem? Cleaner buses, trains and stations are a high priority for women.
Will they ensure radios and music devices are not blaring throughout a train? Many transit riders are very satisfied with quite rides.
Will they make sure no shoes on seats-who know where the soles of the shoes have been, and if it’s raining bus and train seats become unusable when they are wet.
Will the ambassadors be the ones to tell some riders smoking weed on trains and buses to stop? What if the stoner doesn’t want to stop rolling joints and smoking them, which I’ve seen and involuntarily inhaled? I stopped smoking pot forty years ago and have no intentions on returning to it even if it is free, secondhand pot smoke.
Will ambassadors make sure that women are not harassed verbally and physically, and if they are, will the ambassadors be in a position to stop it?
If the ambassadors will not be able to ensure that women feel safe on buses and trains, what is the next level? What is left are the police.
That the ambassadors will be trained with homeless and mental health issues of transit riders is a very positive steps.
And while the threat has been quiet, at least to the public, who will deal with terrorist threats?
What is needed to retain, and attract new transit riders, women and men, is to have a transit riding experience where other riders simply follow the most basic of courtesies which make for a safer bus or train ride. But, what authority will the ambassadors have to back up the public’s needs to ensure social considerations of other riders, to create a safe environment?
While some think there should be no police presence on buses or trains, others think they need to be a steady presence, not to instigate, but to immediately back-up the duties of the ambassadors to ensure some kind of civility and safety between transit riders.
Whenever a new Metro Rail opens the trains and platforms are saturated with police, and then after a little while they disappear. It is a overhanded, too stern, temporary occupying force which does not ensure the ongoing safety on transit.
These police are pulled from thought the ranks, and for some this is their first time just riding Metro’s trains and buses, I’ve talked with when riding trains. They have no experiences on the rhythms of transit riding.
Metro’s new policing strategy could be improved if in addition to the greeters and ambassadors there is the creation of an transit division of police assigned exclusively to transit. They would learn how to move within the transit network like transit riders must do. They could develop the senses needed to work in the transit environment, which is similar to the senses police gain working in traffic, vice, juvenile, gang and narcotics and so forth. They could get to know familiar faces of us transit riders. There could a more humane interaction.
Metro is tasked with billions of dollars of public money to create a vibrant, working, and safe transit network. If women continue to leave riding Metro’s rail lines; and all bus routes, Metro’s and other municipal agencies, too much of that money will be wasted.
(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native, a composer whose works have been performed nationally, and some can be found at https://www.matthewhetz.com. He is the past President of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra and Marina del Rey Symphony. His dedication to transit issues is to help improve the transit riding experience for all, and to convince drivers to ride buses and trains to fight air pollution and global warming. He is an instructor at Emeritus/Santa Monica College and a regular contributor to CityWatchLA.)