House Bill Would Require Agencies to Address Sexual Harassment on Buses and Trains

Photo: Daniel Schwen  CC
Photo: Daniel Schwen CC

Sexual harassment and assault is a pervasive problem for women who ride trains and buses, but most transit agencies don’t have well-defined policies in place to prevent this widespread abuse.

A new bill sponsored by Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio in the House of Representatives seeks to change that. The “Stop Sexual Assault and Harassment in Transportation Act” would require transit agencies to take measures to protect riders and employees.

The legislation would apply to all local transit agencies receiving federal funds, as well as Amtrak, all airlines, and intercity bus companies. They would have to develop clear, well-publicized protocols enabling passengers and employees to report cases of sexual harassment and assault, and to train staff how to respond to such complaints. In addition, U.S. DOT would collect data and publish reports on the extent of the problem.

Without a trusted channel of communication that victims can turn to, sexual harassment on buses and trains goes underreported. According to a 2007 survey of transit riders by the Manhattan Borough President, for instance, 63 percent of women had been sexually harassed on the subway, and 10 percent had been sexually assaulted, but only a small fraction of these offenses show up in official crime statistics.

The fact that NYPD recently recorded a sharp increase in sex crimes on the subway was taken mainly as a positive sign that police have improved methods for reporting harassment and assault. Until recently, there was little effort to take women seriously when they reported misconduct. But in 2014, New York’s MTA created a portal on its website to let riders upload photos of harassers, and transit police have been working with anti-harassment advocates to train officers how to respond to incidents of abuse.

Apathy is still the norm in most places, but other agencies are starting to make a more concerted effort to prevent harassment on transit. In the Seattle region, King County Metro is trying to de-stigmatize the act of reporting harassment and encourage victims to come forward.

Transit agencies abroad have taken measures to prevent sexual harassment and violence. In Toronto, Paris, and some cities in Sweden offer on-demand “night stops” for bus passengers, so women can exit in locations they feel are safer than the official stops on a route. Some cities in China, like Guangzhou, have experimented with women-only train cars, albeit with mixed success.

DeFazio’s bill was introduced yesterday in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. All Democrats on the committee have signed on as co-sponsors, but no Republicans have joined them so far.

Regardless of whether the bill passes, it should still serve as a reminder for transit agencies in the #MeToo era that they need to do more to protect riders from sexual harassment and assault.

  • AMH

    New York also allows late-night passengers to request that a bus driver let them off at a location other than an official stop.

    http://web.mta.info/nyct/bus/howto_bus.htm

  • LazyReader

    This is another reason why public transit is falling apart. Compared with the safety and security and Comfort of riding a car,
    Crime, sexual harassment, graffiti, unpleasant odors, poor hygiene,
    invasions of privacy and depraved acts like masturbation and defecation,
    are common on metro systems throughout the world.
    2nd the MeToo movement fell apart when the people outspokenly supported it the most were found to coddle and protect the very people they claimed to despise.

  • davistrain

    Our “powers that be” can pass laws until they’re “blue in the face”, but without vigorous enforcement and stern punishment, existing laws and future legislation are meaningless. One suggestion I’ve made is to rebuild the relocation facilities that were used to house people whose only offense was Japanese ancestry during World War II and send the vagrants and dope fiends far away from our cities. For those with “static in the attic” reopen the mental hospitals that were closed when it was thought that medical treatment would allow the mentally ill to have useful lives.

  • Hugh Shepard

    “Crime, sexual harassment, graffiti, unpleasant odors, poor hygiene,
    invasions of privacy and depraved acts like masturbation and defecation,
    are common on metro systems throughout the world.”

    Most of the time riding public transit , you’re not going to experience any of these things (except for poor hygiene, unpleasant odors, and invasions of privacy, these can be broadly interpreted) (Also graffiti doesn’t really negatively effect you).

  • The problem is funding. Most cities struggle to fund homeless services now. Giant mental health hospitals are quite expensive as are giant concentration camps for the homeless.

    Frankly it would cost just 20-25% as much to put homeless alcoholics and drug addicts up in public housing, feed them generic groceries and generic cigarettes, as well as supply them with all the alcohol and hard drugs that they could possibly consume, than it would to jail them.

    Better yet, nobody can be a hard drug addict or an hard-core alcoholic forever, and some addicts may yet be semi-productive and/or choose to leave such a facility and discontinue their addictive/destructive behavior too.

    Another big problem is many cities is that the rising cost of housing and other living costs such as healthcare are exceeding median income growth by 1000% or more, which means that sooner or later 75-90% of current residents of cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles, Boston, NYC, etc will simply no longer be able to afford to continue living there.

    A recent study found that 66% of Americans have a household income of less than $46K. Who is going to pay for your grand scheme on homelessness considering that 66% of Americans have no spare income? How about wealthy people in rich cities as they are just about all that can afford to help pay to fund such an expensive boondoggle?

    Wouldn’t providing moderately-priced housing solve a lot of these issues? At least several States I know of offer lower-income residents assistance with down payments on single-family housing and condos that are below a certain value. A friend of mine just bought a single-family house in Traverse City, MI with no money of his own down through such a program. He was allowed to buy any property of up to $175K but no mobile homes.

    Colorado also offers a similar program. You have to have been employed for a certain amount of time or on disability. Colorado’s program will only supply a 10% down-payment on houses or condos of up to $150K in price, with the stipulation that the buyer must live in the property for 5 years, bring it up to code if there are any code violations, and when the property is sold the down payment assistance from the State must be paid back into the program.

    `If new single-family homes and/or condos can be built and sold in some parts of America for $150K or less profitably why can’t that be done fairly close to our more-expensive cities, close-enough for such homeowners to take advantage of public transit? Wouldn’t doing this be less-expensive than trying to maintain a huge homeless low-income addict population that helps drive would-be riders off of public transit as well as away from certain city neighborhoods?

  • I am afraid that all it takes is experiencing unpleasantness some of the time to drive some percentage of transit users back into their cars, and even some of them to seek suburban employment where they don’t have to come to the city and deal with its occasional unpleasantness.

  • Vinstar

    Do you think being stuck driving in bumper to bumper traffic for hours on end under the summer sun is pleasant? While being exposed to all the dangers of driving including drunk drivers, distracted rivers, road rage, toxic vehicle emissions, etc?

  • LazyReader

    Which is why I no longer live in a large city where there’s a lot of
    traffic thanks to urban planners (who had decades/a half century to fix
    the current infra mess but chose to ignore it instead). And when I did
    live in city, I chose to live walking distance to work so I wouldn’t
    have to deal with that crap. Because transit has done little if anything
    to reduce this situation because transit sucks. Then I’d ask them what
    their excuse is for not making changes? Responses from streetscranks are
    typically victimologist in nature.

  • @LazyReader – The bigger picture of a car’s “safety and security and [c]omfort” is that one is far, far more likely to be killed, hospitalized, or face criminal activity in one or by one than anything like that happening on public transit.

    As for the MeToo movement falling apart, it’s done no such thing. To give credit where it’s due, though, your anonymous moniker is apt.

  • @Mark Richardson – Crime follows cars, highways are basically corridors of crime. Motorists aren’t especially immune from any of the other listed offenses, either.

  • @LazyReader – Those planners have mostly prioritized cars for half a century, thus the current infra mess.

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