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    New law makes top California transit agencies survey riders about harassment
    • October 10, 2023

    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.

    The information would be used to address safety issues ranging from street harassment that can cause people of color and women to avoid public transit entirely, to threats and hate crimes. Supporters say the new law will result in a better understanding of under-reported harassment incidents, and allow agencies to target the problem with resources.

    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%.

    “Millions of Californians refuse to ride public transit in this state because they do not feel safe,” said Sen. Min in a prepared statement. “From acts of anti-Asian hate to verbal harassment, a growing number of women, seniors, LGBTQ+ and other vulnerable communities too often ride in fear or have left our public transit systems altogether. I’m proud to say that we are finally taking action to address street harassment and putting in place data driven policies that put ridership experience first.”

    The agencies involved are 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.

    “The numbers don’t lie. A staggering 77% of women experience sexual harassment in public spaces, and almost a third of that harassment occurs on mass transit,” said Min 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 by Min from 2022 that tapped the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University to create a survey about transit safety, which transit agencies will distribute and administer. Using this institute’s survey can save the agencies money while helping them collect data on harassment and hate incidents. In turn, that can lead to better solutions to the problem, supporters say.

    “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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    ​ Orange County Register