One in five passengers on Metro trains and buses have recently felt unsafe due to sexual harassment or other forms of "unwanted sexual attention," according to new data.
A Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority survey of nearly 20,000 passengers on the sprawling bus and rail system asked whether they felt unsafe during the last month while riding Metro due to "unwanted touching, exposure, comments, or any other form of unwanted sexual behavior."
About 21% of rail passengers and 18% of bus passengers said yes. About 17% of bus riders and 13% of train riders said they felt unsafe while waiting at bus stops or train stations.
"This is something that we’re going to look at very carefully," Metro spokesman Paul Gonzales said.
Metro typically asks about safety in its customer surveys, which the agency has conducted at least once a year for more than a decade. But this is the first time passengers have been asked about sexual behavior, said Jeff Boberg, an agency transportation manager who works with data and research.
Metro employees distribute paper surveys, printed in English and Spanish, on every transit line at least once every six months, Boberg said. Translations in nine other languages are available online for the 5% of Metro riders who do not speak English or Spanish.
The sexual harassment question was prompted, in part, by a national discussion about safety on public transit that followed a fatal gang rape on a New Delhi bus in 2012, Boberg said. A study by London's transit agency the following year found that 15% of women riding transit there had experienced "unwanted sexual behavior," but 90% of them had not reported it, according to the Guardian.
Metro staff members who read stories online about such data realized they had very little comparable information, Boberg said, and decided to add the question to the most recent passenger survey. He added that Los Angles Mayor Eric Garcetti and his transportation staff also indicated they were interested.
One of the biggest surprises in the data was that men reported feeling unsafe because of sexual behavior nearly as often as women, Boberg said About 18% of women felt unsafe, as opposed to 16% of men.
"Traditionally, sexual harassment has been portrayed as more of a female issue," Boberg said. "It affects everyone."
Gonzales said uniformed deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which patrols the Metro system, have begun boarding buses more frequently in recent weeks. "They're ostensibly there to perform fare inspections, but whenever a uniformed deputy is on board, it enhances safety in all respects," Gonzales said.
Last week, a Los Angeles man pleaded no contest to raping a developmentally disabled 18-year-old on a Metro Line 217 bus as she returned from school. Authorities reported at the time of the assault that the suspect, a transient, often rode Metro buses in search of potential victims.