Transit justice is a racial and economic justice issue. If more people of color are going to use Metro buses and trains in Los Angeles County, transportation advocates say the public transit system needs to be reimagined with Black and Brown riders in mind.

Specifically, community advocates have brainstormed public safety alternatives to traditional Metro policing, which they believe is causing Metro to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more than needed. They want that money reinvested to community-based initiatives and programming that would benefit the greater public — like improving public spaces and services.

The Alliance for Community Transit – Los Angeles (ACT-LA) held a public webinar entitled “Metro as a Sanctuary: Reimagining Safety on Public Transit” via Zoom March 23.

“Police first transit safety doesn’t work,” said Asiyahola Sankara, Transit Justice Campaign Manager with ACT-LA.

One central idea is replacing Metro police officers with unarmed Metro staff. Ideal positions would include transit ambassadors, trust agents and station attendants, who are trained in de-escalation techniques and customer service, which advocates said would also create well-paying jobs for local residents.

Improved seating, elevators and bathrooms would also go a long way towards improving public safety, Sankara said. Replacing gates with easy entrances, better signage and “public living room spaces” for gathering are also being suggested by ACT-LA.

“There’s safety in numbers,” Sankara said. Meanwhile, ACT-LA said Metro spends almost as much money collecting fares and they receive from fares.

“We have solutions to the problem and very often they don’t involve police,” Sankara said.

Community members agreed with suggestions by advocates that local vendors and shops would also create a more welcoming environment.

In cities like San Francisco, Beunos Aires, Naples, Vancouver and New York, art installations and musicians have also been shown to encourage ridership, increase public safety, decrease stress and improve rider experience.

Advocates are also encouraging Metro to repurpose underused spaces to provide community services hubs for residents in need, specifically unhoused riders.

Another alternative to traditional policing would be an increased public education campaign, which would refocus safety initiatives to encourage riders to look out and care for one another.

Meanwhile, Metro is currently studying the feasibility of fully eliminating fares from buses and trains.

The Fareless System Initiative study would begin with an 18-month fareless pilot program that would provide free rides on Metro buses and trains for low-income riders starting in January 2022.

According to researchers, approximately 70 percent of workers who commute by transit earn less than $25,000 a year.

The pilot program would later offer free rides to K-12 students starting in August 2022.

In June 2023, Metro is expected to evaluate the possibility of overhauling current fares to a fully fareless system.

“Going fareless is probably the biggest thing Metro could do to eliminate assaults on drivers,” Sankara concluded.

Metro’s current policing contract ends in 2022. For more information on ACT-LA, visit (http://allianceforcommunitytransit.org/).