LA Metro Says Its System Is Riskier And Harder For Women. We Want To Hear Your Stories

A woman waits at a Metro's Vermont/Beverly station on June 30, 2019. (James Bernal for LAist)

In theory, Los Angeles County's public transit system serves everyone. But in reality, not everyone is served equally — especially women.

In a recent report, Metro officials said that women are subjected to "outsized burdens and risks" when navigating L.A.'s transportation systems, and their needs "have not been critically accounted for."

The agency issued the 167-page report, "Understanding How Women Travel," in late August. It revolves around five "themes" related to how and why women use public transit and other modes of travel through L.A. County. The agency looked at travel behavior, safety, access, reliability, and convenience and comfort.

Metro surveyed 2,600 county residents, oversampling women and transit riders. The agency also logged more than 100 hours observing how women use its system, ran a series of focus groups, workshops and "pop-up engagements," plus analyzed data from nine existing regional and federal sources to compile for this report.

Based on the findings, the report authors recommend Metro create a Gender Action Plan, with the goal of making "actionable changes... specifically intended to improve travel experiences for women." That could include safety and staffing improvements, adjusting fare policies to "minimize the daily financial burden on lower-income women," rethinking bus stop, station and vehicle design, and amending service times to account for the midday trips more women take on Metro.

Here are four other key findings:

WOMEN TAKE MORE MIDDAY TRIPS

More women travel on Metro's system than men, accounting for 54% on bus riders and 51% of rail passengers, according to the report.

The study found that notably more women reported taking midday trips, especially from noon to 4 p.m., both on weekdays and weekends. Metro noted that women's travel patterns hit a peak at the same time its transit service "drops off."

(Courtesy Los Angeles Metro)

TAKING CHILDREN ON METRO

Almost 60% of the women surveyed who had children said they bring their kids on transit trips. Women also reported more difficulty traveling with children on public transit compared to men. The agency notes that transit vehicles are typically designed for men, which results in trains and buses with "taller steps or high grab bars and with little space for goods or strollers."

"Women traveling with children reported that kids' fares are confusing to understand," Metro officials said in the report. "Older women and women traveling with children had a difficult time maneuvering with strollers and carts on the bus. Only 20% of female riders with children say that taking their kids on transit is easy."

In rider focus groups, women expressed anxiety about inconveniencing fellow riders with the extra time, noise and space-taking traveling with children can bring. Safety issues and lack of shade for children at bus stops were other sources of concern.

THE 'PINK TAX'

A third of L.A. Metro female rail passengers and a quarter of female bus riders surveyed this past spring said they had been sexually harassed while using the public transit system in the past six months. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

The barriers women face in taking public transit also hits their bank accounts. Metro's study noted that the "pink tax" — a term for the price discrimination women often face just for being women in the marketplace — exists within its system, too.

That tax plays out "in the form of higher time costs for women who must maneuver the Metro system despite the challenges they face, or for women who must simply find another, more expensive, mode in order to carry out their everyday responsibilities," officials wrote.

The added financial burden is even worse for lower-income women, a rider survey showed.

Women with an annual household income of less than $25,000 spent more money on transit and ride-hailing services than women in households that made more than that. Fewer female Metro riders have access to a car, the report also found.

(Courtesy Los Angeles Metro)

Women who take Metro also live below the federal poverty line at higher rates than male riders. According to Metro survey data, 59% of female bus riders are below the poverty line, compared to 50% of male bus riders. On Metro rail, its 34% of female riders, compared to 26% for men.

SAFETY CONCERNS

"Despite Metro's multi-million dollar investment in law enforcement over the years, safety is still a prevalent issue," the report found, noting that "fears are elevated for low-income and minority women, who are more likely to live in high-crime neighborhoods, may return home from work in the late evening, and have fewer private transportation options than more affluent women."

(Courtesy Los Angeles Metro)

Across the board, regardless if they currently ride, used to ride or have never ridden on Metro, the majority of women listed safety concerns as the top barrier to taking public transit, the report found.

A survey of riders showed that women feel less safe than men during all stages of their transit trips — especially at night. For example, just 13% of women surveyed said they felt safe waiting for a train or bus after dark, compared to 30% of men.

The report also examined sexual harassment and violence reported by Metro riders.

2018 marked a five-year high in the number of women who reported being sexually harassed on Metro (the agency started asking riders about sexual harassment in 2014).

(Courtesy Los Angeles Metro)

A third of female rail passengers and a quarter of female bus riders surveyed last spring said they had been sexually harassed while using public transit in the past six months. That includes physical assaults, verbal harassment and indecent exposures.

Study participants called for better lighting at transit stops and more frequent service so riders aren't waiting as long at dark bus stops.

Another standout finding from the report: riders surveyed who identified as non-binary reported the highest rates of sexual harassment on Metro buses. More than 40% of non-binary respondents said they'd been harassed, with over a quarter reporting physical assaults.

Sexual violence and harassment is not a new issue on L.A. Metro — and LAist has written about it a number of times in recent years. But in light of this new report, we want to hear from you, female transit riders of Los Angeles.

Tell us your transit tales in the form below. We'll read every entry, but will not publish anything you share without your permission.