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Transit officials stress commitment to public safety

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — As Southern California gears up to host major global events, transportation officials are emphasizing their commitment to public safety amid ongoing challenges with widely publicized violent crimes.

Officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority gathered July 10 at Union Station to present the annual “State of the Agency” address. Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, completing her one-year term as chair of the board of directors, and MTA CEO Stephanie Wiggins highlighted the agency’s milestones. These included the five-year plan to establish the Transit Community Public Safety Department, bringing law enforcement services in-house, as well as progress on current and future rail projects, among other achievements.

“We settled decades of debate by acting decisively to change law enforcement on the [MTA] system by moving forward with creating a new transit safety department to keep everyone safe,” Bass said. “If you are on transit … we want everyone to be safe.”

The new MTA police force will be rolled out over the next five years.

Meanwhile, the agency’s current contracts with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles Police Department and Long Beach Police Department will remain in place.

Law enforcement contracts are expected to be slowly phased out, with the goal of having the agency’s in-house department ready to take over by 2029.

Bass said specially trained law enforcement officers, an increased number of social workers, ambassadors, and other specialists will address the “crisis of homelessness and addiction that play out on our system.”

The plan is estimated to cost $192.6 million per year, compared to the $194 million multi-agency contract.

Safety was a recurring theme with officials describing it as a “top priority.”

County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who at the end of the address received the chair’s gavel from Bass, echoed those sentiments. Hahn outlined her priorities as well, as she begins to lead the agency’s Board of Directors in the 2024-25 fiscal year.

Hahn called the recent string of attacks and violent crimes on the transit system as “alarming” and “troubling” to every board member. As the new chair, Hahn said she will focus on safety for riders and employees. In addition, she wants to help unhoused riders enter shelter, improve rider experience and work alongside the agency’s labor unions to improve working conditions for workers.

Hahn added that she plans to follow the example of her father, Kenneth Hahn, a 40-year political leader who played a significant role in the development of both the county and the city of L.A.

“I haven’t ridden the Metro as much as I should have in the past, but I’m going to make it a point to ride more while I am chair,” Hahn said. “At our board meetings, I’m going to talk about what I experienced as a Metro rider — that will mean calling out problems I see and praising the things that go right.”

CEO Wiggins said the agency will continue strengthening its partnerships to address societal issues affecting the transit system. She thanked law enforcement partners — Los Angeles Police Department, L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and Long Beach Police Department — for their services.

She described the agency’s new approach to safety as one that will bolster engagement and visible presence on the system.

“Our region is contending with historic levels of homelessness, untreated mental illness and addiction,” Wiggins said. “These issues lie at the core of our public safety challenges, and we must address them compassionately and effectively.”

The executive also touted efforts and implementation plans to add additional bus lanes, improve stations, acquire zero-emission buses, increase the use of a transit-signal priority system and bolster customer service.

“Beyond safety, we will continue to deliver progressively better and more equitable service over the next year, and the next four years, both as we finish and activate our new projects,” Wiggins said.

Officials highlighted current projects under construction, including the Airport Metro Connector, the Purple (D) Line extension and “major” planning milestones on the East San Fernando Valley Line, North San Fernando Valley Line and the Southeast Gateway Line.

Some of the subway extensions will start opening in late 2025, she added.

Despite concerns over safety on the transit system, the MTA had reported an increase in ridership during May compared to the same period last year, with more than 27.1 million boards on buses and rail lines. June data has not yet been released.

In the past year, the MTA also has enacted plans to improve safety for employees and riders, and to partner with cities, the county and regional agencies to address issues such as homelessness, untreated mental illness and substance abuse.

“We will continue to pursue our goal to fully restore our ridership levels to pre-pandemic ridership,” Wiggins said. “We are 96% of the way there and on the weekends already. We will make L.A. County proud and all of America as we welcome millions of visitors for the World Cup in 2026, the Super Bowl in 2027 and the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2028.”

Photo by Lorenzo Gomez

       
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