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LA riders flee public transit amid spike in crime, overdoses

LOS ANGELES (NewsNation) — Los Angeles commuters are abandoning public transportation due to a rise in fatal overdoses, drug use and violence.

Serious crimes, including aggravated assault, murder and rape on Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses and trains increased by 24% last year, compared to 2021, according to MTA data.

As of March, at least 22 people have died on public transportation from suspected drug overdoses, which is more than the 21 individuals who died due to various causes in all of 2022, the Los Angeles Times found. 

From Downtown LA to Santa Monica, to Hollywood, open intoxication, people passed out and homeless people carrying their baggage from station to station are rampant on the Metro. It’s a major reason why commuters said they won’t take the train anymore.

“I felt uncomfortable the entire time,” said Han Tran, a Metro ride. “I think that there are just people out there that need help that don’t get the help that they need.”

Beginning at 4 a.m. and continuing through midnight, Metro trains in Los Angeles are taken over.

“It’s a war; it’s a war on the train,” said Geroge Garrett, who rides the train every day.

The 83-year-old said he doesn’t feel there’s enough security watching people’s backs.

“Here it’s a free-for-all. And they live on the train, they die on the train, there is no supervision whatsoever,” Garrett said.

In response, transit officials have committed $122 million to a program in the last year to deploy 300 unarmed “ambassadors” to report crimes and help passengers.

NewsNation spoke to some ambassadors on a platform in Downtown LA, but they said they never actually saw one ride a train. The ambassadors said they can only report problematic riders, but they can’t enforce security.

“We do have security at our stations. We have internet emergency call boxes, in our stations, we have emergency call boxes in our trains, we have security cameras, at our trains, on our trains and on our stations,” said Dave Sotero, communications director for Metro.

He said that they’ve upped patrols and even introduced undercover security on the trains.

“I think it’s safe to say that our law enforcement partners have various security resources that you see and that you don’t see that come into play when they are enforcing safety for the metro system,” Sotero said.

While homelessness, drug, and alcohol abuse can be seen in the LA metro, major cities across the U.S. are also seeing ridership declines as they combat similar problems.

Public transit crime has spiked over the last few years.

In New York City, crime in the subway system was up more than 40% in 2022. In response to the spike, the NYPD launched an aggressive initiative called “Cops, Cameras, and Care” which redeployed about 1,200 officers to subway platforms and stops with higher crime rates.

The initiative worked. Between January and February of 2023, the NYPD said robberies were down 20%, larcenies were down 23% and felony assaults were down 18%.

In Chicago, violent crimes on the city’s transit system doubled during the pandemic even as ridership plummeted.

“Part of the problem is that there is a lack of resources for people who are having a mental health crisis, um, needs that are not being met, and then out of that breeds chaos.”

The city is now considering the approach LA has taken by introducing transit ambassadors.

But transit crime isn’t just a problem for large cities. In places like Minneapolis, Newark, San Jose, Dallas and Portland, surging crime numbers were reported.

Meanwhile, MTA said it’s doing its best to battle a problem that seems to have touched every part of Los Angeles.

“Our transit system is not immune from the social problems that we’re seeing throughout Los Angeles County. We’re affected by it as well. So we are challenged just like every county agency in dealing with this crisis.  and we are proactively addressing it.”

One of the biggest issues blocking progress on the rails across America is the prevalence of homelessness. Last year, LA Metro helped house nearly 600 homeless men and women who were frequent riders of the train.

On Thursday, Los Angeles Gov. Gavin Newsom freed up $1 billion with the goal of reducing homelessness statewide by 15% by 2025.

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