Women say ‘pink tax’ in SF transit all too real

Women are sick of feeling unsafe on Muni, and they’re also sick of paying for it.

While that’s not necessarily a new sentiment in the transit agency’s 106-year history, women leaders in transportation and San Francisco government are now taking steps to make bus and train rides safer for all, with an eye specifically towards women.

Making Muni safer could also ease women’s wallets. A New York University survey found women in New York City pay $26-50 a month more on transit than men do, because they are more likely to use Lyft, Uber or taxis to avoid riding buses or subways at night when they feel unsafe.

Studies have called this phenomenon a “pink tax” on transit — inequitable, unfair, and unnecessary.

Bay Area and San Franciscan women overwhelmingly agreed with this finding when asked about it on social media. At least 58 responded to an informal San Francisco Examiner Twitter survey saying they spend similar amounts on Lyft, Uber or taxis to avoid taking public transit or walking alone at night.

“The 14 (Mission) is terrifying after dark,” said Jen Rizzo, a San Franciscan.

Rizzo said she pays roughly $120 a month for Lyft rides, on top of her regular Muni monthly fares, to avoid riding buses after dark. “I can’t be that story of a woman who was walking alone at night,” she said.

Kelly Groth, a co-chair of the San Francisco Women’s Political Committee, said she was “grabbed from behind” late one night after a political club meeting “when walking the block between the N (Judah) stop and my apartment on a dark street.”

Now, she takes Lyft home if she’s out past 10 p.m. “I’ve been harassed on Muni late night as well, but this was the scariest instance.”

Similar stories streamed in from many San Francisco women.

When coming home from bars, “I always take a Lyft/cab so I don’t have to be extra vigilant on the bus or train,” said Lia Russell, a freelance writer. When taking a bus, “I usually walk extra blocks to the next stop if it’s late at night and I know the next stop is going to be more visible, and I’m less likely to be harassed or worse.”

Another San Franciscan, Kate Rose, said when she used to wait for the T-Third line in the Dogpatch “(I) would have men pull over in their cars just to harass me.” Now she pays extra to take alternatives to public transit after 10 p.m.

SEE RELATED: BART exploring unarmed civilian ‘ambassadors’ to patrol trains

Rebecca Fedorko, a San Francisco teacher, said taking the N-Judah or 7-Haight/Noriega is a “nope” at night anywhere past 19th Avenue because the stops are so dimly lit.

Public officials are not immune.

Rachel Norton, who sits on the Board of Education, said she feels safe on the 38-Geary and 1-California, but avoids the 47-Van Ness and 22-Fillmore. “At night I will take one bus if it’s direct, but avoid waiting at a bus stop to transfer, and/or any stop that is off the beaten track,” she said. Sarah Jones, an SFMTA planner and staffer, said she takes Flywheel Taxi to feel safe.

Near the end of the Twitter conversation, SFMTA Board of Directors Chair Cheryl Brinkman also chimed in.

The conversation, she said, is “a good reminder that these experiences are not captured in our crime data on Muni. Harassment, feeling unsafe, longer waits at night, all of these things dissuade people from using transit. We need solutions.”

Recognizing this as a citywide issue, Rachel Hyden, the executive director of the San Francisco Transit Riders advocacy group, is calling on Muni officials to institute an unarmed ambassador program to patrol public transit system-wide.

“Having staff in stations, on platforms and bus stops, or even riding Muni, makes a big difference in feeling safer,” Hyden told the Examiner.

While a similar program exists at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency now, it is limited to 25 “ambassadors” on buses serving schools during school hours, not at night, and is aimed at preventing fights between students.

Supervisors Catherine Stefani and Sandra Fewer held a hearing in late October to explore women’s safety aboard public transit.

“Riders are harassed and threatened. Women avoid the bus at night because they are afraid,” Stefani told transit officials during the hearing.

“We’ve seen some marked progress” in decreasing assaults on Muni, SFMTA Director of Security, Investigations, and Enforcement Chris Grabarkiewctz told the supervisors in the hearing.

Reported assaults on and around Muni vehicles and stations reached a high of 151 in 2015, but dropped to 127 in 2017 and are holding at about 72 this year, as of October, he said. Robberies also fell significantly, with 347 reported aboard and around Muni and 137 in 2018.

Security presence aboard Muni is a major deterrent to crime, including assaults, he said. That security personnel currently includes SFPD officers who ride specific routes in a “SURGE” program paid for by Homeland Security funds, as well as 50 transit fare inspectors.

Grabarkiewctz said placing security patrols on five percent of the roughly 700 buses and trains at peak commuter hours would be the “magic number” to achieve better safety, but there simply aren’t enough San Francisco Police Department officers available to fill all 700 or so buses and trains.

The agency is also looking at lighting, he said.

Muni crime data is not broken down by gender, Grabarkiewctz said.

But SFPD Municipal Transportation division Cmdr. Teresa Ewins said in her experience, it’s no secret who is targeted on Muni every day.

“It’s mainly women that are the victims right now,” she said.


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