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Harassment on NYC public transportation means women spend more than men

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A survey by NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation found disparities in the cost of getting around NYC for men and women

Max Touhey

If you’re a woman or femme-presenting person who regularly uses New York City public transit, it may not surprise you to learn that a new report from NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation found that women may be paying more than men to get around the five boroughs.

Issues of harassment and accessibility (particularly as it relates to caretaking) lead women to turn to for-hire vehicles or taxis more often than men, which leads to higher monthly transit costs—up to $50 more per month due to the former, and up to $76 more per month because of the latter.

The numbers in the report paint a bleak, but not surprising, picture of what it’s like to be a woman who rides public transportation: 75 percent of respondents who identify as female have experienced harassment or theft, compared to 47 percent who identify as male. Pinning down an exact number of instances of harassment proved more difficult—according to the report, respondents “provided answers like, ‘Too many to count,’ ‘Not sure - it’s taken place over my entire life,’ and ‘Countless.’” And those who experienced issues were not likely to report because, as one respondent put it, “The notion of reporting everyday harassment to the authorities is bizarre to me. What would they do?”

Ultimately, this leads women to both feel unsafe on public transit, and to turn to other modes of getting around—like using ride-hailing apps or taxis—rather than riding the subway or bus.

The situation isn’t much better for women who also identify as caretakers, either for children or the elderly. The survey found that women who take regular caretaker trips incur as much as $76 in additional travel expenses every month, with the cost naturally going up as the number of trips goes up.

There are some caveats: The sample size of the survey was quite small (547 people completed it), and while responses came from all five boroughs, a large number of respondents identified as college-educated, and a good chunk reported living on the Upper West Side. (The report’s authors hope to complete a second survey that would reach a more diverse group of New Yorkers.)

But even with the small sample size, the results are troubling. And as Wired notes, “there’s no reason to believe these same effects aren’t happening in other places, too—but ... New York’s may be amplified, because so many residents depend on public transit.”

So what can be done to improve women’s experiences on public transit? The report points to a few things that could help—security cameras on trains, better training for law enforcement officials who respond to reports of harassment, and having women in leadership positions to ensure equity in transit planning. (The MTA recently appointed its first woman to lead the Department of Subways within the agency, Sally Librera.)

You can read the full report here.