Just as cities are trying to lure people back to formerly bustling downtowns, leaders are confronting transit crime rates that have risen over prepandemic levels in New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. This month, a shooting on a subway train in Brooklyn injured 23 people. In other cities, stories of violent assaults, muggings and stabbings on buses and trains dominate the evening news, and worried conversations in neighborhood apps, reports the New York Times. Low ridership has left many passengers saying they feel more vulnerable. In Philadelphia, the number of some serious crimes reported on public transit is higher than before the pandemic, and in New York about equal to previous levels, even though ridership in both places is much lower. In other cities, there are fewer crimes being reported than in 2019, but the crime rate is up because there are so few passengers.
The crisis threatens the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Mayors, transit agencies and police departments are wrestling with ways to reduce crime and restore the confidence of commuters. If more people return to public transit as they go back to offices and shops, trains can feel safer; if transit systems feel unsafe, people are reluctant to go back to the downtowns that hollowed out amid COVID. In Chicago, where the nation’s second-largest public transportation system served 800,000 riders daily in March, crime on the city’s trains and buses has spiked this year — and even before the pandemic, serious crime was rising. Last month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced heightened security and additional police officers to address fears from riders. In Philadelphia, actual incidents of certain crimes on public transit have been mounting throughout the pandemic. In 2021, police recorded 86 aggravated assaults, up from 46 in 2019. Robberies increased to 217 from 118 during that period. The challenges are not limited to transportation, said Jamie Gauthier, a City Council member in Philadelphia, but part of a broader trend of rising crime and violence across the city.