Close contact with strangers is par for the course when you’re commuting via mass transit in a crowded city. As a straphanger in New York, I didn’t blink at strangers brushing against me on the subway or bus, and scarcely noticed when they did. During rush hour, fellow commuters were packed as closely as bedfellows. I didn’t mind when an old woman bashed my knee with her walker, or when someone stepped on my foot; I didn’t flinch when a businessman spread his newspaper over my lap. But, when I felt a hand grab my ass as I stepped off of the F train, I balked.
What constitutes typical, sardine-style touching and sexual harassment are different things, entirely. Some close commuter encounters shouldn’t be tolerated, and public transit authorities in Mexico City, where the harassment problem is notoriously huge, have finally taken a stand.
In January, Mexico City began running women-only buses in response to mass complaints of sexual harassment onboard city transit, which serves around 22 million passengers (the majority of whom are women). Sadly, transportation authorities suspect that the complaints filed are just a fraction of the actual incidences that occur with disturbing frequency.
From the New York Times:
“Most women don’t report what happens to them,” said Ariadna Montiel, who directs the public bus system, noting that as a young architecture student years ago she traveled by public transportation and experienced the harassment firsthand. “I know it’s a serious problem.”
The buses have been wildly popular among women, who are relieved to travel without fear of being touched, though the city’s solution has received mixed reviews by men.
From the New York Times:
Men’s reactions run the gamut. Some declare the program discriminatory. Some curse at the bus drivers who leave them standing at the curb.
Plenty of men, though, say they endorse the idea.
“We have no respect,” Adolfo Flores, 30, a law student, said of the unseemly way many men treat women.
Mr. Flores was getting his shoes shined as buses passed by behind him. The shoeshine man, Esteban Hernández, 57, piped in with his own theory about the groping.
“We have the animal instinct,” he said, smiling. Touching a woman, he said, “is a way of showing masculinity — it’s very bad.”
Montiel told the Times that the city’s public transit doesn’t intend to neglect men. Namely, it aims to provide for the best interest of all passengers. Coed buses, said Montiel, arrive at bus stops in close proximity to the women’s buses, so the wait for both buses is similar.
Thus far, only four of the city’s bus routes offer women-only buses, but, due to their quick success, authorities have plans to add single-sex buses to eleven more routes in the coming months.
I’m glad to see that Mexico City’s transit system is responding to passenger complaints and taking them seriously. I’m saddened, however, by the reality that women can’t take public transit—even during the peak of rush hour—without fear of having their personal space violated.