A light-rail train in Minneapolis derailed last week, forcing Metro Transit to bus riders around the train for several hours. The Phoenix light rail is suffering from major problems due to homeless people, leading the agency to try to force people off the trains.
But the biggest hit against transit is the me-too movement that encourages women to speak out against sexual harassment and other sex crimes. “The me-too movement is a public transportation issue,” says Washington Post writer Martine Powers. “If you’re a woman who rides public transportation, you’re almost guaranteed to experience the kinds of demeaning or threatening encounters that fit squarely within the bounds of the #MeToo conversation.”
The good news is that women are more likely to report such assaults than they were a few years ago. Powers notes that reports of sexual harassment on the Washington Metro system are up 65 percent in 2017 over 2016. Similarly, reports of sex crimes on the New York City subway have gone up 50 percent in the last three years. We can hope that these increases are because women are more willing to speak out and not because harassment is actually increasing.
The bad news is that there’s not a lot that transit agencies can do about it. Last September, Powers revealed that a man had been arrests more than twenty times for exposing himself to women on Metro trains and in Metro stations, yet he isn’t in jail and Metro doesn’t have the authority to ban him from the trains.
Increasing reports of sexual harassment on transit may not reflect increasing numbers of actual such harassments, but they will make more women have second thoughts about taking transit and more of them may desert publicly owned transit in favor of alternatives such as Uber, Lyft, and Chariot. Of course, there have been incidents with Uber, but potential patrons know that ride-sharing drivers, unlike other transit passengers, know they are closely tracked and that their livelihoods depend on providing good service. All in all, this is likely to be just one more nail on transit’s coffin.