While most Mills College students living on campus view the Alameda County (AC) Transit EasyPass program as a welcome feature of the Mills College experience, many have concerns about bus safety, with some reporting harassment and threats of violence as a regular part of their experience riding AC Transit buses.
“I have definitely experienced sexual harassment and violent behavior directed towards me on the bus,” said Marie Cruz, a Mills College student who lives on campus and frequently uses public transportation.
Although Cruz acknowledged the dangers associated with riding AC Transit buses, she said she is not afraid and dismissed the incidents as a regular part of living in an urban environment.
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department is responsible for passenger safety on the AC Transit system, an Oakland-based public transit agency with local buses running within Oakland’s Alameda County as well as transbay routes connecting students to the greater bay area.
“Without the patrol by the C.H.P. and Alameda County, we wouldn’t have any presence in many areas,” said Sgt. Christopher Bolton, the chief of staff to police Chief Howard Jordan of the Oakland Police Department (OPD), in a March 10 New York Times article.
According to a March 18 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the understaffed OPD is currently undergoing a redistricting plan that will divide Oakland’s two large police districts into five smaller districts. Each new district will be under the command of an experienced police captain tasked with targeting and reducing crime.
Beginning spring 2009, after an undergraduate student survey yielded 84 percent approval, Mills College began requiring students to pay a $50 fee each semester to participate in the AC Transit EasyPass program. The program provides each participating student with a Clipper card that permits unlimited entry onto all AC Transit local and transbay vehicles. In spring 2010, 62 percent of a pool of eligible graduate students voted to participate in the EasyPass program.
Students have easy access to AC Transit lines as there is a stop directly in front of the main campus entrance on MacArthur Boulevard and stops just steps away from the pedestrian gate by Seminary Ave.
Erika Kahle, a sophomore living on campus, uses her Clipper card for off-campus excursions in Oakland.
“Having a Clipper card is really convenient for me because the stops are so close to campus and buses come frequently,” Kahle said.
Kendall Anderson, also an undergraduate at Mills, noted the convenience of AC Transit but also reported having experienced instances of sexual harassment, the most recent of which occurred a month ago. Anderson said the incident began with lewd comments but quickly escalated to the point where the police were called.
“After I told this guy to stop harassing me and my friends, he got in my face and threatened to kill me, describing what he’d do to me while he did it,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that although she tried to fight back and the bus operator pulled over to assist her, she still felt helpless.
AC Transit drivers are trained to defuse violent or threatening situations as part of the Alameda County Sheriff Department’s efforts to increase passenger safety on the AC Transit system.
“It was nice having the driver there to help, but it was really scary when I realized the police weren’t showing up,” Anderson said.
“It took 20 minutes for the police to get there,” Anderson said. “And by then the perpetrator had run off.”
Anderson’s concerns were mirrored by other Mills College students, who said that while they’re aware and capable of navigating the inevitable dangers of riding public buses in an urban environment, they found it worrying that if an incident were to occur, the police may not be able to show up on time.
“I don’t really feel unsafe riding the bus, and I’ve seen plenty of crazy stuff happen,” said Louisa Angleton, an undergraduate living on campus, “but it’s kind of scary knowing that the police might not be able to make it in time to help if anything major did happen.”