How Inequality Impacts Transit Safety

Transit workers are being assaulted by riders at alarming rates, and inequity may be partly to blame.

2 minute read

December 8, 2023, 6:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Woman bus driver sitting behind wheel of bus wearing long-sleeved shirt and yellow safety vest.

Drazen / Adobe Stock

“According to new research from the Urban Institute, America's transit workforce is experiencing an alarming increase in violent attacks, with incidents that resulted in a death or hospitalization climbing from 168 in 2008 to 492 in 2022,” reports Kea Wilson in Streetsblog USA. The study shows this may be in part due to larger issues such as poverty and inequality.

According to Lindiwe Rennert, senior research associate for the Urban Institute, “before disproportionately low-income and radically marginalized passengers even arrive at a bus or a train stop, they're carrying the weight of an unjust and violent society. And once they arrive, those indignities are often mirrored in the transit experience itself, including long waits at unsheltered stops with no seats, steep fares they can't afford, police violence if they're unable to pay, route maps, schedules, and services that weren't designed with their actual needs in mind, and a universe of other frustrations that can all too easily boil over.” In other words, the violence is often a result of the broader “rampant inequality that plagues riders,” or “how the public is lashing out from other inefficiencies.”

While these issues require solutions far outside the scope of transit agencies, Rennert says “improving service can be a ‘first step’ to calming transit riders’ frayed nerves, as can removing fares that often become a flashpoint for an assault.” Other suggestions include “physically separating drivers from passengers in clear-walled compartments, taking the burden of fare collection off of operators by enlisting ambassadors or eliminating fares entirely, and providing workers with de-escalation training to diffuse violent situations.”

Thursday, December 7, 2023 in Streetsblog USA

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