Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Problems for Long Beach Commutors - Leigh Ferguson

A young woman waits for a bus at night in Long Beach under the comfort of a streetlight.

Zoe Lewis is an exchange student from England, and is new to California State University Long Beach, having only arrived six weeks ago. Standing at just 5 foot 3 inches, Zoe is a petite, friendly but shy 20-year-old girl.  As a 'foreigner' in California, Zoe has taken to enjoying touring around the west coast and heading into Los Angeles city to see the tourist sites, like Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Without a car, Zoe must take the Metro Blue Line 1 to get into LA city. Every time Zoe makes the one and a half hour travel into the city, she is restricted to daylight hours only. This is because travelling on public transport at night-time, Zoe says she fears for her safety, even her life.

Zoe says how last week coming home from shopping in LA, she shared the carriage with homeless people, drunks, likely narcotics users, amongst many other eccentric individuals.

Downtown Long Beach is the closest train station to California State University. Zoe catches the buses 94, 46 or 121 from directly outside her dorm room at California State University to the train station.  The Blue Line Metro 1 is in the heart of Downtown Long Beach, with the latest service leaving Los Angeles at 12:30am weekdays.

Zoe is not alone in feeling insecure on public transport from Downtown. Carolin Elsmann, a blonde, tall and slim 21-year-old CSULB student, was stalked a few weeks ago leaving the Downtown train station.

"I got the bus from the station to my friend's house near the University. I noticed a man who said sexually aggressive things to me as I got off the bus, but I just ignored him. I walked five minutes to my friend's apartment. Then I went out to get some fresh air on his front balcony. As l looked down below, there was that same man from the bus stop in the middle of the road, staring up at me".

Medium to high and high violent crimes are significantly increasing in the Long Beach area each year, says results from the Long Beach community database. It shows high violent incidents has risen from 2010 to 2011 by over 2500 cases, and medium to high violence by over 3000 cases. That's an increase of over 14% in Long Beach area in one year.

The most noticeable area is Downtown Long Beach, which has the highest rate of violent crimes in any Long Beach sector, at 516 cases per 10,000. There are 45 rapes and 221 assaults, with a staggering number of narcotics at 464 and 71 cases of used weaponry (all per 10, 000).

Zoe and Carolin were both warned about the safety risks of Long Beach public transport at orientation from the CSULB Peer Advisor Madeleine McManus.

"You're never going through a good area (Downtown)", says Madeleine. "You're always going to come across crazy people, drug addicts or gangs".

This safety factor impacts severely on Zoe and Carolin's social lives, as they both say they don't go venture into Los Angeles as often as they would like to.

There have been initiatives undertaken by the student community, to work around this problem. One example is a group called PartyBus, which organizes transportation to and from Los Angeles on Friday nights. Adam Swaby, the organizer of the service, says that it helps the young people to still enjoy the nightlife in Hollywood that they would otherwise miss out on.

"You know, we pick them up from the University and make sure they get home safely at night after drinking. It's way for a girl to do this than get on a dodgy train by herself after drinking", says Adam.

CSU, a sector that has the most significantly lowest crime rates for Long Beach at 67 cases per 10, 000 in 2011, have taken initiatives of their own to ensure student's safety in transit around campus.

"We offer an escort program and self defence classes. The free shuttle bus goes around campus and to the dorms, and runs until midnight", says Madeleine.

The campus also has its own police force with a jail.

There is only one metro Blue line that takes Long Beach transporters into Los Angeles. The service runs from Long Beach to LA up until 3am in the morning on weekends, and arrives at latest 3am in Long beach on weekends. The only other way to get to LA is via buses, which takes approximately four hours.

"On the train it is more safe because there's 24/7 security cameras and stuff. Sitting in the front carriage is best", recommend Madeleine.

"I wouldn't get the train alone, and if you're alone, especially as a woman, you are making yourself a target".

With the staggering violence statistics, plus the shadowy, eerily silent ambience early in the morning in Downtown Long Beach, it's no wonder that young people feel unsafe in transit. The Long Beach Public Transport Committee says that there are security cameras placed all around the train station, and that there is a lot of lighting to increase safety. They say also that they have relatively low crimes statistics for onboard public transport.

Madeleine says the problems with public transport in Long Beach, extends beyond the feeling of safety factor.

"In the last two months the whole transportation system has changed. We now have less buses with more inconvenient routes".

Madeleine blames the death of the Trolleys.

"LA used to have one of the best Trolley companies in the world. When they expanded the cities in California, Ford became the head of transit who got rid of all the trolleys and built roads instead."

Los Angeles is a vibrant, hip place for late night hangouts, and so young people without a car, like Zoe, will always aim to travel there via public transport. With the increasing violence in Downtown, there needs to be a way to ensure a feeling of comfort and wellbeing for commuters like Zoe. 

- Leigh Ferguson: 011465595

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