Metro celebrates Women’s History Month: Creating a better system for women

Transportation isn’t a man’s world any longer –– if it ever had been at all. More and more, women are leading the charge when it comes to moving us around LA. This Women’s History Month, we are sharing stories and tips from a few of our amazing female employees. Whether they’re improving our stations or driving your bus, these women are responsible for making your trips safe, comfortable, and timely. Our final feature in this series highlights Meghna Khanna, Deputy Executive Officer, Mobility Corridors and a key leader in our Women and Girls Governing Council (WGGC). Keep reading to learn why understanding the way women travel is so important to building a system that works for us all.  

Meghna Khanna is mild mannered and sweet as she led me into her office. She gently laughs when I complimented her colorful shirt. “My daughter picked this out. She told me that today, I should wear flowers!”  

Meghna works in a field we call “mobility corridors” –– in non-transit speak, that means securing environmental clearance for new light rail projects, and then determining routes and stations that will provide the most opportunities for the greatest number of people. Right now, she is responsible for managing the Southeast Gateway Line, a future 14.5-mile-long light rail project that will serve various southeast LA communities from many cultures and backgrounds that reside from Huntington Park to Artesia, providing them with a reliable new way to reach jobs, schools, hospitals, recreation, and many other resources that would otherwise be hard to reach without a car.  

That’s only one of the many hats she wears at Metro! Meghna is also a passionate advocate for understanding –– and improving –– the transit experience for women and girls. When then deputy CEO Stephanie Wiggins convened the very first cohort of our Women and Girls Governing Council (WGGC) and asked the group to study how to make the system work better for these riders, the challenge was personal to Meghna. As a college student in New Delhi, she had relied on buses. She knew firsthand what it was to wait at a dark stop at night for what felt like hours with her belongings and get harassed by men.  

“On one hand, transit gave me the freedom to explore and access opportunities,” Meghna told me. “But these upsetting experiences and challenges also took that freedom away.”  

Meghna’s WGGC cohort identified a gap in the way that Metro was using data. While planners engaged dozens of datasets to inform their planning and operations decisions (ie. things like when we implement peak hours, where we put bus stops, and how late train service runs), the agency wasn’t disaggregating data by gender to understand the unique travel patterns and preferences of female riders.  

“Gender neutral,” the WGGC pointed out, didn’t mean equal.    

When planners started looking at gender-specific data more carefully, however, new information came to light. Women, they realized, tended to use transit very differently than men. Here are a few of the key findings published in an eye-opening 2019 report that followed, Understanding How Women Travel (UHWT).   

  • Women tend to make shorter trips than men do, with more frequent stops. A key reason for this is that many Metro riders belong to one-car households, and most of the time, the car would be used by the man. Female members of the household therefore would rely on transit to accomplish a series of daily tasks. 
  • Almost 90% of female riders use the system more than three days per week. Why? Similar reasons as above. When you live in a one-car household, transit becomes a lifeline.  
  • The study found that 57% of female riders frequently travel with children. And when you’re traveling with small children, that can also mean strollers, additional luggage, and groceries. 
  • Women travel at different peak hours than men.  The UHWT study found that peak travel for women hovers around 2 p.m., when trains and buses come less frequently than “traditional” peak hours based on a 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. workday. 
  • Only 60% of female riders surveyed felt safe riding Metro during the day (compared to 80% of men) and only 20% at night (compared to 40% of men). The majority of the women surveyed (whether they rode Metro or not) stated that better lighting and the presence of more people nearby would make the system feel safer. This continues to be a top priority at Metro.  

Since its 2019 release, the UHWT report has launched a number of important changes to reduce the travel burdens faced by women. Meghna’s team grouped them into four general groups spanning safety to fare policy to service to station design — you can read more about them in Metro’s Gender Action Plan. Here are just a few changes you can already see (or expect to see soon) on the system:  

  • Many women surveyed for the report asked for an increased presence of unarmed, non-law enforcement staff on the system. This was one of the factors that led to the creation of the Metro Ambassador program, which just celebrated its first year on the system!   
  • To address mid-day peak travel for women, Metro’s NextGen Bus Plan improved bus frequency during the midday, evening, nighttime, and weekend periods by shortening headways to less than 10 minutes on most routes in urban centers, and 16-30 minutes on most routes in outlying areas. 
  • Requests for improved lighting and cameras led to a number of changes: to date, new, brighter lights have been added to platform ends in rail stations, all cars on the B/D lines have been retrofitted with new LED lights, and CCTV staff have been added to monitor onboard feeds from our live-view cameras. Data has shown that these changes have reduced loitering significantly. More on that in a future post!   
  • Last year, we introduced fare capping, a new policy that ensures that riders never pay more than $5 per day or $18 in one week with their TAP card, no matter how frequently they ride. One of the biggest groups this policy stands to benefit is female riders, who are likely to make multiple short trips in a single day.     
  • Metro has introduced new bus specifications to include a “single-flip” seat type configuration. This is designed to accommodate passengers with strollers (and is apart from the wheelchair-designated space).  
  • Meghna is also working with several departments to reduce instances of sexual harassment on Metro and increase awareness of the resources available for reporting it.  

Of course, none of these programs would have turned out as they did without the insight and contributions of Metro’s many female employees.  

“Women tend to bring a more holistic perspective to planning,” Meghna told me, “and are likely to consider the needs of everyone, including children, elders, and the disabled. Therefore, in order to see more people using transit, walking, and cycling, we need more women in planning and advocacy around transit.” 

This, she points out, is already happening, citing the unprecedented numbers of women at Metro who have risen to the ranks of senior leadership. Several benefits, such as the daycare center at headquarters where Meghna used to bring her daughter, have helped make this shift possible. Having reliable childcare allowed her to focus on work, and not have to choose between caring for her kids and pursuing a demanding career.  

“If women start mobilizing women,” she says, “we will see much more participation, and, with more women at the helm, we will surely see more equitable and sustainable mobility for all.”  

  

  

  

  

 

Categories: Transportation News

1 reply

  1. Metro’s CEO, Stephanie Wiggins, has fired the agency’s chief safety officer, Gina Osborn. Why? Because Gina dared to tell the truth about crime and fare evasion on the system. And yet Metro pretends to care about rider safety. A complete farce. Wiggins only cares about pandering to the most extreme liberal board members that want to remove all law enforcement from the system, relying on “safety ambassadors” to deal with daily crime including harassment and assault of riders and operators.