Is it any surprise that women don’t want to ride public transit?

In the classic 1960s Disney movie, “Mary Poppins,” there’s a sequence in which the characters see chalk paintings on the sidewalk and magically jump into the scenes for a lovely day.

That seems to be the plan for California policy and urban planning: show everybody a watercolor illustration of walkable communities, green open space, and speedy trains that have vanquished the bad old days of freeway traffic. Spend a fortune to pay for building it. Then discover, to everyone’s apparent surprise, that life is not a watercolor painting.

As one example, and there are too many to fit in one column, consider Metro, the public transportation system in L.A. County funded by your tax dollars. L.A. County voters have so far approved four separate sales tax increases, one-half percent each, to fund the realization of artists’ renderings of how beautiful it’s going to be.

How’s it going so far?

Billions of dollars later, ridership is lower than it was in the 1980s, when Metro was just a bus system.

And it’s not quite the jolly holiday of Mary Poppins. In fact, a new study indicates that if Mary Poppins jumped into a sidewalk drawing of Metro right now, she’d jump right out of it and buy a car.

According to a survey of more than 12,000 L.A. Metro riders conducted earlier this year, the number of female passengers has dropped sharply. Compared to a survey taken in early 2020, before the pandemic shutdowns, female bus ridership fell from 53% to 49%. Female rail ridership, which was only 46% in 2020, fell even further to 44%.

What’s the problem? Can you guess?

Nearly 50% of female passengers surveyed cited concerns about crime, safety and sexual harassment.

Mary Poppins might have been able to pull a floor lamp out of her carpetbag to clobber a perpetrator, but for women who are mere mortals, there are no good options when you’re trapped in a moving bus or train in close proximity to people who are acting like knuckleheads for whatever reason.

It’s fine to talk about connecting people with services and de-escalating conflict situations. But participating in this social experiment can’t be a condition of using public transportation to get to work, school or wherever you’re going.

Women are uniquely vulnerable to the chaos and disorder that was left out of the watercolor illustrations that accompanied the campaigns for voter approval of the tax increases. Speaking for myself, I would never feel safe standing alone at a bus stop or train platform in Los Angeles County, or trapped in a moving bus or train with nothing but air between me and an individual who is making lewd comments or who appears to be irrational.

Metro is no Disney movie. You have to wonder, though, what Metro would be like if it was run the way Disney runs its parks and hotels. Probably the trains and buses would be safe and clean, and people who didn’t pay the fare would be out the door in a hurry.

Government transit doesn’t work that way. Government transit is completely tolerant of anti-social and dangerous behavior, with the predictable result that the transit system has been completely overrun with anti-social and dangerous behavior. Elected officials, frightened of criticism from activists, offer only timid half-measures to address the problems.

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Election Day? Pick your poison

Taxpayers and transit riders in Los Angeles County who are tired of this can take strong action to get the attention of elected officials. Voters have the power to reduce or repeal local taxes. It’s in the state constitution thanks to Proposition 218, the Right to Vote on Taxes Act, passed in 1996. Voters can use the initiative power to scrap local taxes that were passed earlier, such as those four sales tax increases of one-half percent each to fund Metro.

The number of signatures required to get an initiative of this type on the ballot is just 5% of the total votes cast for governor in the jurisdiction during the last regular general election. Based on the 2018 election, fewer than 152,000 signatures would be needed in L.A. County. Depending on turnout this year, the signature requirement might go even lower.

Voters have direct democracy powers in California. We often have no alternative to solve problems in the real world.

Write and follow her on Twitter @Susan_Shelley

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