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Public Transit Crime Rises As Overall Ridership Declines


Image of Transit Police Officer in New York City
Image: Shutterstock/Ron Adar

Days after a gunman opened fire in a New York subway train, shooting 10, city officials are scrambling for new ways to protect riders. Mayor Eric Adams suggested using emerging technology to screen passengers for guns. He has also pondered adding metal detectors at some entrances, which could create bottlenecks in the largest U.S. transit system.


City leaders are facing challenges as they try to combat a rise in violence on subways. Researchers say crime on public transit is up. A string of high-profile incidents have left riders on edge, even as many systems struggle to address pandemic-related ridership declines, the Washington Post reports.


In Washington, a man was shot in the leg aboard a Metro train in November. Another was fatally shot a month later in front of a station. In January, a 40-year-old woman was pushed in front of an oncoming New York subway train by a man with a history of violence and mental health issues.


A teen shot another teen on a Washington station platform in February,. In March, a man shoved another onto the tracks of the Los Angeles Metro, causing a head injury.

Through April 10, robberies in the New York transit system have surged 71 percent this year over 2021. Felony assaults are up 28 percent and grand larceny has shot up 110 percent.


In 2021, there were 3,918 complaints of crimes — including assaults, burglaries, harassment, sex crimes, robberies, rape and a few other categories — on New York transit, a 14 percent jump from the previous year.


Experts say the rise in violence on public transportation is tied to the more widespread spike in crime. Some factors driving this trend are unique to public transportation and the pandemic.


Ridership on many systems hasn’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels, as many white-collar workers continue to work from home. The empty stations and trains have created spaces where criminals feel emboldened, transit researchers say. In turn, crime increases dissuade new customers from entering stations.


Clashes between police and fare evaders and a growing number of attacks on bus operators, station managers and other transit workers have added to the sense of unease among many public transit users.


Planned attacks like the one allegedly carried out by 62-year-old Frank James last week Tuesday in Brooklyn are difficult to prevent.


Former transportation officials, transit police officers and crime analysts said an increased presence of uniformed police officers at stations and aboard trains could disrupt violence.


“A robust, uniformed, respectful, diligent police presence in the system makes the vast majority of riders feel safer and deters a lot of bad behavior and criminal conduct,” said Sarah Feinberg, interim president of the New York City Transit Authority between February 2020 and July 2021.

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