Public transit hopes to win back riders after crushing year

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In this April 27, 2021, photo Brad Hudson poses as a Los Angeles Metro train goes by in South Pasadena, Calif. As President Joe Biden urges more federal spending for public transportation, transit agencies decimated by COVID-19 are struggling with a new uncertainty: how to win passengers back. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

WASHINGTON – Taking the Los Angeles Metro for his first trip in months, Brad Hudson felt a moment of normalcy when the train rolled into the South Pasadena, California, station, harkening back to his daily commute into LA before the coronavirus pandemic.

Then Hudson boarded the train, and reality set in.

Not everyone wore masks. Metro staffing levels appeared much lighter, with more trash on the trains.

“I don’t feel at risk for COVID, because I’m vaccinated and I mask,” said Hudson, a child psychologist. But he felt security was worse now — he said a passenger shouted at him for no apparent reason and, on a subsequent ride, a man entered a train car with a large knife strapped to his leg.

As President Joe Biden urges more federal spending for public transportation, transit agencies decimated by COVID-19 are struggling with a new uncertainty: how to win passengers back.

It’s made more urgent as the United States confronts the climate change crisis. Biden has pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions at least in half by the end of the decade, an aggressive target that will require car-loving Americans to transform the way they travel, ditching gas-guzzling cars for electric vehicles or embracing mass transit.

“We have a huge opportunity here to provide fast, safe, reliable, clean transportation in this country, and transit is part of the infrastructure,” Biden said at an event Friday to promote rail and public transportation.

With fewer transportation alternatives, lower-income people are more reliant on public transportation for commuting and their daily lives. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti promises free transit fares for them and for students.