Every Angeleno Deserves Safe Public Transit

With the return of Los Angeles’ notorious bumper-to-bumper traffic and gas prices approaching $7 per gallon, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) has the opportunity to finally turn around its long-declining ridership. But rather than addressing rider safety concerns, LA Metro has put criminals, vagrants and the mentally ill ahead of the families and working people of Los Angeles. To guarantee the safety of every Angeleno, LA Metro must empower public safety officers to fully enforce the rider code of conduct and to crack down on violations such as drug use, public urination, violence and fare-evasion that have brought the system to ruin.

While LA Metro ridership has long been in decline, the pandemic cut ridership from 1.2 million daily riders in February of 2020 to just 364,000 two months later. Riders perceived they’d be safer from COVID-19 in their own cars, spurring used car prices to rise over 50% in 2021; these consumers paid more for cars, but a recession at least meant fuel was cheap, offsetting some vehicle costs. 

Over the last two years, ridership has somewhat recovered, reaching around 745,000 daily riders  as of February of 2022, but this still reflects a near 40% decline from pre-pandemic levels — if jobs and the economy are back, where are the riders? With gas prices skyrocketing, why haven’t cost-conscious Angelenos returned to public transit? 

To put it simply, riders don’t feel safe. Violent crime on LA Metro increased 36% in the past year, making former Metro riders reluctant to return. 

“In the times I’ve taken the Metro this year, I have often felt unsafe in a way I didn’t before 2020,” wrote one rider to the L.A. Times. 

Unfortunately, higher crime on LA Metro can largely be attributed to reduced enforcement in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, when LA Metro moved towards “ambassadors” and security guards.

From January’s high profile murder of a rider at a bus stop to the recent shoving of a rider onto the train tracks by mentally ill transients, and April’s release of a video compilation of shootings, beatings, and worse aboard LA Metro, it’s unsurprising Angelenos feel crime is sprialing out of control. 

Thankfully, a cost-effective solution exists: by returning from multi-jurisdiction, multi-agency contracts to sole law enforcement contracting with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, LA Metro can save $30 million while improving public safety. 

By switching to multi-agency law enforcement contracting in 2017, LA Metro created enforcement gaps that keep police officers from fulfilling duties outside their jurisdictions — under this bureaucratic absurdity, a public safety officer might have power to enforce the law on certain segments of an LA Metro ride, while being powerless on others. 

Even worse, LA Metro adopted policies making it impossible to remove unruly passengers. As a result, LA Metro riders are asked to exit trains or buses for their own safety while homeless, unruly, drunk, and criminal individuals get to stay on board. 

Why should LA Metro, for which we provide $8 billion per year, be relegated to serving as a mobile homeless shelter, psychiatric ward, drug den, and armed free-for-all? Who would use a public transit system that puts thugs, criminals and the mentally ill ahead of law-abiding citizens?

In response, Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva bid to service the entire LA Metro system on the condition that his sheriffs would have full enforcement authority for “the code of conduct, fare evasion, and the rule of law.” Given the critical state of LA Metro, there is no alternative but to accept the sheriff’s offer. 

I have fond memories of taking the E Line from Santa Monica to Downtown and back — what a pleasure it was to not worry about parking or driving, especially for a $2.50 round trip. But who cares about convenience or cost when they’re scared for their lives? That’s the calculus hundreds of thousands of Angelenos have made during our city’s slide into chaos. 

Whether Villaneuva’s offer is accepted, or it takes a new crop of city leaders to take action, we deserve to have a public transit system in which citizens can expect to be safe from violence and assault. Until then, I’ll see you in traffic.

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