The Future is Female-Subway Cars

A Metro B Line (Red) train departs 7th Street/Metro Center Station with a women-only car leading the train.

We’ve all read the headlines about declining Los Angeles transit ridership and the various reasons 70+% of Los Angeles County residents decide to drive alone in a car. One of the many barriers to reducing single occupancy vehicle trips is addressing safety issues, specifically for women transit riders. So what if Metro started running trains with cars exclusively for female passengers? Would this make riders more comfortable using transit, and how would such a system be implemented? We explore…

Background

Metro unveiled a report, Understanding How Women Travel (Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority, August, 2019), on safety and ridership issues for female passengers. The report is categorized into five main topics including:

  • Travel Behavior Trends, including overall travel trends and transit-specific travel trends. 
  • Safety, including sexual harassment and crime, physical safety and injuries, presence of staff to manage safety concerns, and other issues that exacerbate safety concerns.
  • Access, including financial access, physical access, and Access services.
  • Reliability, including headways, real-time information, pass-ups, and service times.
  • Convenience & Comfort, including the investment of time, cleanliness, customer service, and station and vehicle design. 

Each section provides data, both in the form of surveys and observational anecdotes, that give a comprehensive look at women’s concerns riding bus and rail transit in Los Angeles. As expected, there isn’t a single solution to making riders feel more comfortable and improving safety throughout the system. Rather, it will take a variety of improvements to increase safety, both in accessing transit and actually using it, to increase ridership and comfort.  

Metro then identified a series of next steps which the agency is taking to address these ridership issues. These included items like installing better lighting, increasing policing at stations, and providing better arrival time information to reduce wait times at stations. The agency also looked at other cities’ transit services which allow bus drivers to stop between stations at night, upon request, or have payment systems which can better accommodate families. While some of the conclusions and data will be obvious to anyone who has used public transit in Los Angeles, the report is overall very insightful and I would highly encourage everyone to read it.

One idea the report did not consider as a potential action item is running an exclusive train car for female passengers. Although seemingly simple, TPS wanted to explore some of the challenges in turning this idea into reality. And ask the question, would it really help alleviate concerns from female riders? 

What is a women only car?

Pretty self explanatory, at least one car on every train would be exclusively for passengers who are women. This has been implemented in a number of places around the world including Tokyo, Egypt, Mexico City, and a bunch of other cities not in the United States. 

The female only cars in other cities are often used during peak hour service, as a preventative measure to reduce incidents from train overcrowding and unwanted contact. The placement of the women only car varies from the first/last car of a train to one of the the middle cars. Some cities have also tried running full women only trains, but issues with headways and overcrowding in mixed-gendered trains have largely ended this practice.

How would this be implemented in Los Angeles?

Metro would likely want/need to introduce this as a pilot program, where they would pick one rail line and test a women only car for a period of time – say three to six months. Metro would create a set of goals that they would want to see from the pilot program and provide a report at the programs conclusion. Possible goals might include:

  • Are female passengers happier?
  • Have reported incidents decreased significantly?
  • Are female ridership numbers increasing?

After the pilot program concludes, Metro would review the feedback and data to determine if it is worth keeping and/or expanding to other rail lines. 

Pilot Program

How would the pilot program work? One idea is to start with the Metro B Line (Red). The B Line has seen a drop in ridership in recent years, but is still one of the more popular rail lines for the agency. The B Line (Red) also runs the longest trains in the system, potentially making it less impactful to the riders in mixed gender cars.

One car on every train would be wrapped with graphics (as seen above) to clearly indicate to riders that the car is for female passengers only. Metro staff would also be on platforms reminding passengers about the women only car. Report hotlines and push to speak to operator buttons would be readily available inside the car to report any issues – just as they are in other Metro rail cars. 

The pilot program could be run during all hours of operation to see how the cars are used at different times of the day, including the peak hour, midday, and late night service. Metro would monitor the cars and collect data and feedback from riders as part of the pilot program to see if the agency is achieving its goals.

Issues

We can’t ignore the fact an all female car pilot program could face a variety of issues from logistics to enforcement. 

Logistics

Having a women only car requires actually designating at least 12 total train cars to run at all times of the day. These train cars would need to be branded (as seen above), to ensure they are visible to passengers, and placed in the same location on each train so passengers consistently know where they are. While doable, this would almost certainly require adjustments to how Metro manages its fleet of vehicles, as cars are shifted in and out of service throughout the day and can switch between the B Line and D Line trains. 

Another logistical issue, particularly during the peak hours, is the overcrowding of trains. Although the Metro B Line has seen falling ridership, trains are often pretty full during the peak hours. If the female only car is not used to it’s capacity, more crowding in the mixed gender cars could occur. This is one of the reasons other cities which previously tried women only car programs eventually discontinued their service.

Costs

Designating a car for women passengers only is a relatively cheap measure for the agency. Costs would include adding additional signage on trains and station platforms and maybe some public outreach to inform riders of the new policy. Staff to manage the stations may be an additional cost to the agency, but Metro, arguably, should do this anyways. Plus, their role would not just involve monitoring the women only car, but could include assisting passengers with directions, making announcements, and monitoring the full platform.

Visibility

The placement of the women-only car can make a big difference for passengers using transit. Metro B line trains don’t U-turn upon reaching the end of the line, so the first car towards North Hollywood becomes the last car back to Union Station. Putting the women only car on the end of a train could mean a mass migration of users from one side of the platform to the other. However, flexible signage and an increase of Metro staff at stations could assist with this issue. Alternatively, the car could be placed in the middle of the train to reduce the walk to the desired car.

Usage

Who gets to use the women only car? Would it be restricted to only biological females? Would school aged boys be allowed in the car if they are with their mother? What is the cutoff age before being required to sit in the mixed gendered cars? This would have to clearly be spelled out before any type of enforcement begins.

Enforcement

Enforcement on Metro is tricky for a couple of reasons. One, over-policing is an issue for some riders, especially for minorities who make up a large part of Metro’s ridership. But, as noted in Metro’s report, many female riders would actually like to see more police in the system. Regardless, with a women only car, Metro would need some type of staff to ensure the car is being used properly and to handle any conflicts which may arise.

Which leads to point two, what type of penalties, if any, would be in place for people who don’t follow the women only car rules? In some cities, there is no penalty aside from public embarrassment. In others, a fine may be issued if caught riding in the women only car during designated times of the day. Metro likely wouldn’t want to fine riders during the pilot program, but this would certainly be a consideration for full implementation. 

Conclusion 

It’s definitely worth starting a pilot program for women only cars, so long as it comes with clearly defined goals and policies in place to handle the program. Metro, and all transit providers, should explore every option to ensure passengers feel safe and comfortable riding their systems. 

That said, as mentioned in Metro’s report, ridership issues extend well beyond just riding the train. It involves taking buses, waiting at stations, walking to and from stations, and interactions with the other people on board. Women only cars may be part of the short term fix to alleviate immediate passenger concerns, but we as a community and region have to think bigger if we truly want to make public spaces safer for all genders, 24 hours a day.  

Would you like to see women only train cars on the LA Metro? Would this help with your Metro ride? Share your thoughts with us!

Oh, and I almost forgot…..

Post Rating (1 being the lowest)

  • Implementation Difficulty – 1/3: This pilot program wouldn’t be too difficult
  • Photoshop Skilz – 2/3: Not my best, but I will certainly have worse
  • Outrage Meter – 1/3: I think this would be a low risk item, but then again no other city in America has this.  
Dawson Woodstone
Founder – The Place Space
Like what you see? Have a revolutionary idea to improve your city? Check back for more posts by the Place Space! You can sign up for email updates when new articles are published. Also feel free to email Dawson with ideas you have to make your city better!   

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