New law makes top California transit agencies survey riders about harassment

According to new requirements outlined in legislation signed into state law, California’s top ten public transportation agencies must survey riders about safety, sexual harassment, and racial and gender discrimination in order to learn more about threats to bus and train riders.

Senate Bill 434, sponsored by state Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine) and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 7, directs transit agencies to investigate any harassment, threats, assaults, or fear experienced by riders — and on which lines or bus routes. Women of color, including Asian-American Pacific Islanders (AAPI), the elderly, and members of the LGBTQ+ community would be prioritized.

The data would be used to address issues ranging from street harassment, which causes people of color and women to avoid taking public transportation entirely, to threats and hate crimes. Supporters argue that the new law will lead to a better understanding of underreported harassment incidents and allow agencies to focus resources on the issue.

Keeping track of incidents, supporters argue, will give victims a voice. The emphasis could increase female ridership from those subgroups. According to a survey conducted from March to May 2022, female ridership on LA Metro buses fell from 53% in early 2020 to 49% in 2022. In addition, female train ridership fell from 46% to 44%.

“Millions of Californians refuse to use public transportation in this state because they do not feel safe,” Sen. Min stated in a prepared statement. “From anti-Asian hatred to verbal harassment, a growing number of women, seniors, LGBTQ+, and other vulnerable communities ride in fear or have abandoned our public transportation systems entirely.” I’m proud to say that we are finally taking action to address street harassment and implementing data-driven policies that prioritize the ridership experience.”

Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), LA Metro, Long Beach Transit, City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), San Francisco Muni, Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority (BART), Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit), Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, Sacramento Regional Transit District, and San Diego Metropolitan Transit System are among the organizations involved.

“The figures don’t lie. “A staggering 77% of women experience sexual harassment in public spaces, with nearly a third of that harassment occurring on public transportation,” Min stated in a press release. “Additionally, the AAPI community has seen a surge in hate incidents in public spaces, many occurring on our public transit systems.”

SB 434 will work in tandem with a bill introduced by Min in 2022 that commissioned the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University to create a transit safety survey that transit agencies will distribute and administer. Using this institute’s survey can help agencies save money while collecting data on harassment and hate incidents. According to supporters, this can lead to better solutions to the problem.

“Too often, our communities face verbal harassment, including racial and sexualized slurs.” “We are less likely to use public transportation as a result of these experiences,” said Candice Cho, managing director of policy and counsel at the AAPI Equity Alliance in Los Angeles.

Cho described waiting for a bus after a performance at the Hollywood Bowl and being called racial and sexually explicit names by a man at the bus stop. She said she chose a ride-sharing service over public transportation to get home.

“I had the resources to do so.” “However, that is not always an option for people in our community who have to deal with this,” Cho said on Monday, Oct. 9.

While some transit agencies survey their riders, she claims that many do not report sexual or racial harassment. She claimed that law enforcement officers frequently told her that it wasn’t a crime.

“By requiring transit operators to collect this information, Asian-American riders, and other riders can be heard,” she went on to say. “You can’t fix what you don’t measure.”

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