Jul. 14, 2023
Our next transit challenge is safety
Those who would do harm or interrupt transit need to know they will be held accountable for their actions and will face proper, swift justice.
Despite L.A.’s car-centric reputation, public transit is a foundational component of how our city gets around. Every day, 750,000 Angelenos use Metro not only to go to work in the morning but also to healthcare, to groceries, to education opportunities, to sports and entertainment, and, most importantly, to loved ones. There are few assets in the city as important to promoting both economic growth and equity.
Yet the system is in crisis. Metro’s own board report concedes a 24% increase in violent crime occurred between 2021 and 2022. Not only are riders targeted, but transit professionals are also victimized, with some particularly harrowing examples of attacks on bus operators. This violence disproportionately impacts women and Latinos, who are among the core customers of the system. According to a recent Metro survey, the top concern for female riders is feeling safe from crime and harassment. It should come as no surprise that as other forms of transportation have bounced back post-COVID, Metro ridership is still down roughly 40% from its pre-COVID norms. It’s important to note this problem isn’t unique to Los Angeles; transit systems across the United States are undergoing severe COVID-era challenges. But the question remains, how can we solve the problem here at home?
First, we should agree that Metro’s professionals are and should be transit experts, not law enforcement personnel. Their expertise is in engineering transit projects and in delivering people efficiently across the county to their destinations. And they do a good job in this arena. We cannot expect them to be police any more than we should expect the police to operate trains and buses. We have law enforcement professionals. Let’s allow the transit professionals to focus on their jobs.
Second, we must have increased law enforcement on the transit system. This may mean we need to hire more police officers to properly do the job. We must support transit riders and the transit professionals who work on the system by assuring them law enforcement will be nearby, protecting our public spaces, deterring crime, and ready to assist at any time they may be needed.
Finally, I believe it is time for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office to establish a special unit focused on prosecuting crimes that occur anywhere on LA’s transit system. This is a regional problem that deserves a comprehensive approach employing the use of law enforcement and prosecutorial expertise in a synergistic approach. Those who would do harm or interrupt transit need to know they will be held accountable for their actions and will face proper, swift justice.
In the 1980’s, Mayor Tom Bradley envisioned transforming the RTD into a modern and premier countywide transit system. We are the beneficiaries of this visionary leadership. Today, the nation’s third largest transit system faces another challenge: how do we keep public transportation safe? The available tools can do the job if used in a smart, coordinated, and constitutional manner. We just need to use them in a competent way.