New law makes top California transit agencies survey riders about harassment

California’s top 10 public transit agencies must survey riders about safety, sexual harassment, and racial and gender-based discrimination in order to learn more about threats to riders of buses and trains, according to new requirements spelled out in legislation signed into state law.
Senate Bill 434 by state Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine), signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 7, orders transit agencies to find out what kind of harassment, threats, assaults or fear riders experience — and on what lines or bus routes. A key focus would be on women of color including Asian-American Pacific Islanders (AAPI), the elderly, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Supporters say that keeping track of incidents will give victims a voice. The emphasis could raise ridership of women from those subgroups. Female ridership on LA Metro buses fell from 53% in early 2020 to 49% in 2022, according to a survey taken from March to May of 2022. And female ridership on trains dropped from 46% to 44%.

“Too often, our communities are facing verbal harassment, being called racial or sexualized slurs. Thee experiences make it less likely for us to take public transit,” said Candice Cho, managing director of policy and counsel at AAPI Equity Alliance in Los Angeles.

Cho told of waiting for a bus after a Hollywood Bowl performance and being called racial and sexually-explicit names by a man at the bus stop. She chose to take a ride-sharing service to her home instead of public transit, she said.

“I had the means to do that. But that is not always an option for people in our community who have to put up with this,” Cho said on Monday, Oct. 9.

She said while some transit agencies survey their riders, many do not report sexual or racial harassment. She said often a law enforcement officer would say that wasn’t a crime.

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

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