In summary

The Improving Public Transit Ridership Safety bill would require California’s 10 largest transit agencies to recognize street harassment as a rider safety concern.

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By Dave Min, Special to CalMatters

State Sen. Dave Min, a Democrat, represents state Senate District 37.

A Chinese American woman and her 2-year-old daughter were waiting for public transit in San Francisco one night in spring 2020, when a man approached them and started yelling. The woman scanned the station and spotted stairs nearby to escape. She ran with her daughter but the man followed, only retreating when another person approached. 

“Taking the bus scares me now — it leaves me panicked,” she said. “Now, when I ride the bus, I have to look around and see if anyone looks dangerous. Sometimes when I have to work late, I feel like I should make an excuse so that I don’t have to ride public transit.”

Sadly, her experience has been all too common. Data from the Stop AAPI Hate coalition shows that of the more than 11,000 hate incidents reported nationwide during the past two years, 67% involved various forms of harassment. Moreover, almost half of all anti-Asian hate incidents occurred in public spaces, including on public transit. 

Public transit safety is not just an Asian American and Pacific Islander issue. 

Women experience street harassment, such as racial or sexualized slurs and intimidation on public transportation and in other publicly accessible spaces.

Black people and other people of color, individuals with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, and the young and elderly also know the fear of harassment and, in the worst cases, physical harm. 

We all deserve to feel safe while riding public transportation. 

This is why I authored the Improving Public Transit Ridership Safety bill, which will protect women, transgender individuals and other vulnerable public transit riders. Sponsored by Stop AAPI Hate and Los Angeles Metro, Senate Bill 1161 would require California’s 10 largest transit agencies, including LA Metro, Bay Area Rapid Transit and the Orange County Transportation Authority, to recognize street harassment as a rider safety concern, gather data and create solutions that don’t include prison or jail time to prevent and mitigate the harassment that occurs every day in their vehicles and transit stops.

Increasing safety is paramount to restoring rider trust and confidence in our beleaguered public transportation systems. Research shows transit usage in California plummeted between 50% to 94% during the first half of 2020. This trend did not begin with the COVID-19 pandemic, however. From 2014 to 2018, California lost more than 165 million annual boardings, an 11% drop.

SB 1161 and its budget proposal of $30 million over the next four years are smart investments that will shore up the critical regional infrastructures that sustain every community. 

Public transit safety is also a critical measure for transportation equity. Lower-income Californians are much more dependent on public transit than are the wealthy. Even before the pandemic changed millions of lives, nearly one-third of all California families lived in or near poverty. Within this group, almost 80% had at least one working adult in the household. This population depends on public transit to work, attend school and shop for necessities. Also, women are less likely to have a driver’s license and access to a private vehicle and thus depend on public transportation.

This public investment would support ridership recovery and result in fewer cars on our roads, which would result in cleaner air. If we are serious about mitigating the effects of climate change, we can make a real difference by increasing public transportation access, reliability and safety.

SB 1161 now is being heard in the Assembly, where my colleagues have a historic opportunity to begin revitalizing our public transportation systems and show how transit agency leaders everywhere can reassess a post-pandemic future

Lawmakers have a critical role to play to support public transit, one of the most basic public services. We must make this investment for all our futures. 

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