Metro releases Understanding How Women Travel report

pdf for download here

A new study titled “Understanding How Women Travel” was released by Metro this month. The report is the first of its kind by a transit agency in the United States and is a broad effort that doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to pointing to challenges faced by women when using the Metro system from traveling with kids and strollers to safety to fares.

The report’s findings confirm much of what we already know: women have different mobility needs, travel patterns and commute demands and some women feel unsafe using Metro for a variety of reasons. But we now have far more detailed data gleamed from several sources, including focus groups and Metro’s customer surveys  on specific concerns and where there may be room for improvement, whether it’s better lighting at stations and stops and surrounding areas or having a more visible police or security presence.

It’s important to understand the report is a first step. It’s a building block, in other words. With the findings from this study, Metro will next create a Gender Action Plan that will recommend specific actions to improve women’s travel experiences on our system. Those could include upgrades to the design of bus stops, train stations and vehicles — as well as improvements to service and safety. The report also includes some best practices that Metro can draw from other transit systems around the world.

The entire report is embedded above, or you can download it here as a pdf. The report is 169 pages and there’s a lot to unpack, so we’ve posted some text and graphic excerpts below that we think capture the overall findings. We also think it’s worth adding some context: while it’s good to acknowledge there’s room for improvement, the Metro system carries about 1.15 million boardings on the average weekday and many women and men successfully use the system without incident each day. 

Among the report’s findings:

Women Travel Behavior

Across all modes of transportation, women typically take more trips per day than men. At the other end of the spectrum, women are more likely than men to make zero trips per day. What that means: women have more exposure to travel burdens (cost, stress, safety risks) and are more likely to be isolated or disconnected from the opportunities that travel affords.

•Women in Los Angeles make shorter trips than men and women’s trips are more varied to more destinations and are more likely to primarily serve the needs of someone else (i.e. family members, etc.).

•Women are more likely to trip chain, that is, make stops along the way to other destinations the reason some wait for a day when they have access to a car and can run all their errands at once. Women in Los Angeles are also more likely than men to travel mid-day, with a travel peak around 2 p.m. when transit service may be reduced.

•Women ride more public transit than men and over the years ridership among women has continued to grow, while male ridership continues to decrease. Almost 90 percent of female riders use the system more than three days per week.

•57 percent of women bring their children on transit.

•A couple of good graphics:


•The women who responded to Metro’s survey identified safety concerns as the top barrier to riding transit. Those surveyed included current riders, former riders and those who have never ridden Metro. Safety was not the top concern among men.

•Sixty percent of female riders who participated in our survey feel safe riding Metro during the day, but that number falls to 20 percent at night. Many surveyed also said they don’t feel safe waiting at stops/stations or traveling to stops/stations. Concerns about safety are causing riders to alter their behavior – to consider their clothing choices or, for those who have other options, simply not ride transit.

•Here is an excerpt from the report: “Some women reported wearing sneakers on the bus or train in case they unexpectedly need to run from an assailant. They also said they would avoid wearing skirts because they did not want their bare skin to touch the seat and out of fear that men would sexually harass them. Women reported that they hide their jewelry on public transit due to fear that it may be stolen, and many shared stories of seeing people robbed on public transportation.”

•And this: “Over and over, participants in the workshops and pop-ups pointed to problems that could be solved by a deeper investment in lighting, more frequent service to produce shorter wait times, and other solutions at stops and stations.”

•Two key graphics:


•Although many women riders would qualify for low-income fare discounts, many do not pursue them or know about them. The $100 regular monthly pass offers discounts if used 58 or more times a month. But women told Metro they considered the monthly pass as too expensive and said they hesitated to buy one because they were uncertain whether it would be worth the expense.  

Navigating buses and trains

•Women were more likely than men to use elevators and escalators, as well as benches and other seating, and were observed to be traveling more frequently than men with bags, carts, strollers, and other items and people in their care. Older women and women traveling with children reported having a difficult time maneuvering with strollers and carts on the bus. 

•Older women and women with limited mobility had difficulty moving through the aisle while buses were in motion. These groups were more likely to wait for the bus to come to a full stop before exiting the bus. They were also more likely to take the first seats that were available from the front of the bus. Some operators seemed aware and were accommodating and waited a few seconds before leaving a bus stop.

Service and reliability

•The top three complaints filed by female Metro bus riders are all related to the reliability of the bus system – buses that fail to stop for riders, buses that never show up and late buses. Metro also heard numerous complaints about unreliable real-time information on station signs and cell phone apps.

From the report: “These experiences cause women to alter their travel behavior – sometimes leaving hours ahead of time due to unreliable service, using ridesharing services instead of transit due to infrequent service at night, carrying a flashlight to ensure that they are not passed up by operators while waiting in the dark, or even sleeping at the bus stop because service does not start running until several hours after they get off work.”


The next step for Metro is to develop a Gender Action Plan, which will:

•Pivot from research findings into actionable changes.

•Ensure that the agency’s policy, programs and activities include a gender perspective and to promote the considerations of gender issues at all levels.

•Reassess communications on board buses and trains and at stops and stations to create an environment that prioritizes safety and customer service, reduces sexual harassment and encourages women to report instances of harassment.

•Explore alternatives to the current fare policy to better accommodate families and low-income riders and to provide affordable options for trip-chaining.

•Investigate changes to station, stop and vehicle designs to better address the needs and concerns of women, including elements such as better lighting, seating at stops and stations, clearer sight-lines and more space on transit vehicles to accommodate strollers and carts.

•Evaluate services provided by time of day to understand how they can be adjusted to better meet women’s travel needs during midday and evening off-peak hours, including on-demand services such as Access.

What do you think, riders and readers? Comment please.

Categories: Policy & Funding

15 replies

  1. Strollers were a huge concern for me when I was taking my kids on the bus. I can imagine carts would be as well, how else are you supposed to get groceries home if you depend on the bus? They have bike racks on the front of buses now, I have to believe you can find a creative solution for strollers and carts.

  2. Honestly, I’m impressed you’ve acknowledged our concerns as a real issue — it’s a refreshing change (most places would still respond by rolling their eyes). I have to say that I appreciate the simple fact that you’re taking us seriously, so thank you for that!

  3. This report is accurate on all accounts. I can’t describe how many times that I have opted for Lyft/Uber because on delays or frequency issues. Even in the evening 7-9pm when I still brave the buses and get on a crowded Silver line where I have had multiple men grab my backside but nothing can be done since there is no room to even turn around to confront the person.
    Frequency is a multisided issue. Because increase frequency will increase service and safety I stay less than a mile away from the Green line station but early mornings to get to Union Station for an early San Bernardino line train. I have to wake up and begin waiting on the Green line around 3:30am to catch a 5:40 train at Union.
    Safety is an even bigger concern for me, and many others of the LGBTQ community. Lighting is nice but not the whole solution. Please take action and don’t just say that you need more research.

  4. This publication comes at a perfect time because I had recent incidents on the bus where I felt the bus driver was not compassionate while the bus was full during rush hour. He continually pushed standing passengers to move towards the front of the bus where the hanging wrist straps are despite passengers choosing not to stand there for obvious safety/stability reasons.

    This triggered another passenger to start yelling at other passengers to move forward even though I’ve never seen a policy requiring standing passengers to stand and hold onto a wrist strap versus standing by the vertical pole. I was closest to this screaming passenger and felt unsafe to respond. I was also not aware if the bus driver ever filed an incident report or inform security to escort this screaming passenger as it was requested by another passenger to do so.

    Another incident just happened today where the bus driver closed the front door and it closed on an individual running to enter the bus. I’m not blaming who did what, but the bus driver loudly exclaimed and blamed the injured woman to the full bus that he will now have to stop the route because she wants to call the paramedics and file a report. He antagonized the situation and made other passengers upset that the injured woman was to blame. These are real incidents that I have encountered where the situation could have been handled better by a Metro employee. I’ve been really disappointed with how Metro employees handle situations.

    I’ve sent in feedback for both these incidents and hope Metro truly take a look at better how to better prepare their bus drivers on reacting to situations.

  5. More frequent service, better lighting and visible security. These are no-brainers.

    Don’t let this report die on the vine: what are the next steps to make these changes?

    • ‘visible security’ would be a huge plus. I’m a frequent visitor to LA area and mainly only see the staff who randomly check our passes.

  6. Seems like Metro keeps getting report after report with the same basic recommendations. At what point can you say we’ve done ENOUGH studying, lets address the problems?
    Do you really need several years long studies to tell you that people (including women!) would really like more frequent and reliable service and better bus stops?

    A lot of redundant effort that could be avoided in the future if Metro spent the same effort on pilot/demonstration projects to prove the concept.

    How many findings of the long awaited next gen bus study could have been summarized by the temporary bus-only lane on flower during the blue line construction?

  7. Have to sit down and read the report, but your summary reflects reality for me. Hoping Metro will take action that will address these concerns.