- Eight attacks that took place on the New York City subway system last weekend, part of an overall increase in the violent crime rate in the system, have spurred an effort to remove more than 1,000 people experiencing homelessness who officials say regularly occupy stations and trains for shelter.
- An April 2021 study by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) cited fear of transit crime as a deterrent to riders coming back to the subways after ridership fell during the COVID-19 pandemic. MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber said in a news conference in January that riders don't feel safe and MTA workers are scared.
- Other U.S. cities, including Chicago, Seattle and Charlotte, North Carolina, are facing similar concerns about rising violence in their transit systems.
According to an analysis by the New York Times, the rate of felony assaults on the city's subways was 200% higher in the first 11 months of 2021 compared with the same period in 2019. High-profile crimes such as the death of 40-year-old Michelle Go, who was pushed onto the subway tracks in front of an oncoming train in January, have put subway crime on the front page.
On Tuesday, police officers and mental health workers began removing unsheltered people from the trains and referring them to social services and housing. "Transit homelessness is at crisis levels," said Danny Pearlstein, policy and communications director at the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group for New York transit system riders. He added that homeless people are among the most vulnerable to being attacked.
"We are calling on the governor to run more trains," Pearlstein said, explaining that the long waits for trains make riders nervous and cause many to choose other transportation options. He said that for a cost of a few hundred million dollars a year, more frequent service would bring more riders, and more riders would make the system safer.
That money could come from implementing New York's congestion pricing plan, which is undergoing environmental review. "Congestion pricing is a two-for-one deal," said Pearlstein. "We unclog the streets and free up billions of dollars from drivers to fix the subway."
Other U.S. cities are also seeing a jump in transit crime. The Chicago Transit Authority saw a 35% increase in assaults, battery, robberies and theft during the two-month period of December 2021 and January 2022 compared with the same period a year ago. According to the Seattle Times, drug use is rampant on Seattle-area buses and trains, with some drug users accused of violent behavior against drivers and passengers. In Charlotte, North Carolina, a bus driver was shot and killed this month as violent crime on the Charlotte Area Transit System reached a four-year high.
But, these statistics need to be put into perspective, advised Pearlstein. "Millions of people are riding public transit in New York every single day, overwhelmingly without incident."