FROM THE LEFT: Dealing with transit crime in LA County


By Lance Simmens

Having spent a large part of my life in big cities on the East Coast, where transporting oneself around town, or finding a parking space, can significantly alter one’s day and increase the stress levels of constantly running late, I learned to navigate via public transportation. 

When traveling in NYC, I would take the subway; while in Chicago the ‘L’; in San Francisco, BART; in Atlanta, MARTA. In most large cities there is an abundance of avenues for transportation: subways, elevated trains, commuter trains, buses, and the trolley cars that wound through the city streets. It was easy, it was relatively inexpensive, they ran constantly, and if the hour was late you could always flag down a taxicab or now use Uber. In essence, public transportation solved the need for freedom to travel inexpensively, whether it be for work or for pleasure, or both. It also reduces the ill effects of auto emissions and the frustration of traffic jams.

Having lived in Los Angeles for the last decade, and watched my blood pressure rise as the abundance of freeways contained lines of crawling red lights that represented brake instead of accelerator power and an unfathomable line of automobiles inching their way across five or sometimes six lanes of traffic. I came to accept defeat at the hands of car culture and long for the days when trains, if not trolleys, might make a comeback. Lo and behold that day has arrived. The building of the light rail system and a semi-subway system that hopefully one day soon will reduce the headache of having to drive one’s automobile to LAX hopefully will be completed before I no longer either have the desire or the patience to fly anywhere. 

I have studiously mastered the art of navigating travel by bus and light rail throughout the Malibu-Santa Monica region at times when I either did not have use of nor wish to drive deep into the metropolitan vortex for various appointments (re: doctor’s offices or hospitals, or sporting events) and find the public transportation system both comprehensive and enjoyable. Unfortunately, in addition to the thrill of discovering new ways to both save money on gasoline and to prove to myself that there is sufficient satisfaction, indeed a feeling of youthful discovery, in figuring out how to utilize this public accommodation, there is a catch. 

As in most things in life, there is a pro and a con, namely others who have figured out how they can benefit from this abundant treasure.  While the rails and trails of steady routing end up taking you eventually right back to where you started, it also provides one a way of stopping at various points along the way. But the vehicles that are designed for transportation have become convenient places to rest while either passed out or simple looking for a place to sleep. 

The circularity of their existence represents at least movement, but it is a dead end. I have traveled on many transit options in my life and for those who are simply looking for shelter or a place to rest, there is a temptation to interfere with those who are primarily using it, for whatever reasons, as a way for going from point A to point B. Violence and lawlessness, such as burglary, theft, and frustration and hunger, can make these marvels for transportation both uncomfortable and dangerous. 

Lately, there has been a spike in attacks upon transit riders and operators that has led LA Mayor Karen Bass to act to provide far more public safety protections than are currently in use on the city’s trains and buses. The Los Angeles Times has reported that LA Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, who serves as chair of the LA County Board of Supervisors and member of the Metro Board of Directors, has introduced a motion to address violence on buses and trains that will be heard by the full Metro Board on May 23. Horvath offers “We are looking at a 10 percent increase in the cost of Metro’s law enforcement contracts next year with any increase in presence.”  Horvath adds frustration that the current state of affairs “is unacceptable. We need safety personnel on every Metro bus and rail line to keep our riders safe.”

Bass is presenting a motion before the Metro Transit board meeting on May 22 that will “expand cellphone service in underground stations and aboard moving buses and trains as well as establish a unified command between Metro securing officials and law enforcement agencies … and will increase the number of uniformed officers actually riding and patrolling buses …immediately.”

In addition, Metro drivers staged a “sick out,” calling in sick to protest conditions they have faced, and the transit system has approved new plexiglass barriers on 2,000 buses. LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis has offered “Metro will install barriers on every bus by the end of the year.”

Our local officials in LA County and the city deserve kudos for acting swiftly and decisively to make our public transit system as safe for Los Angelenos so those who choose to use and depend on a safe system can do so without fear of violence.