Met Council boss Zelle to ride troubled light rail trains, nation’s most dangerous

A year and a half after unveiling a highly promoted 40-point safety and security plan, Met Council Chairman Charlie Zelle finally plans to get a first-hand look at the nation’s most dangerous light rail system under his command. Zelle will have lots of company as he attempts to understand the fears and concerns faced by regular Metro Transit passengers coping with drug usage, vagrants and threatening behavior on a regular basis.

The Star Tribune notes the Met Council boss’s ride-along features quite an entourage of higher-ups, including law enforcement, just in case.

This week, Metro Transit is launching a listening session tour. For a few hours each day from Tuesday through Friday, Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle, Metro Transit General Manager Lesley Kandaras, Metro Transit Police Chief Ernest Morales III, Metro Transit Chief Operating Officer Brian Funk and Met Council Transportation Chair Deb Barber will ride the rails and fan out to platforms to talk with people about improvements they want to see on the transit system.

“These listening sessions are an opportunity to meet riders where they are to gather ideas on how we can improve the transit experience,” Kandaras said. “Listening to and learning from our customers is essential to how we make decisions. Our Safety & Security Action Plan is based on rider feedback. As we continue to advance each of the 40-plus items in that plan, we want to ask: ‘How are we doing?'”

As American Experiment revealed previously, federal data show the Twin Cities light rail system has ranked as the most dangerous in the country. The rate of personal security incidents reported in the Twin Cities from 2014-2021 was nearly twice that of Houston, the second most dangerous light rail system in the country.

The number of personal security events jumped from 33 in 2018 to 117 in 2019. That’s twice as many as the next closest light rail system…that’s also 40 percent of all personal security events that occurred across America’s 22 light rail systems. Putting that in context, Metro Transit accounted for 40 percent of personal security events on light rail while carrying only 4 percent of passenger miles.

The safety plan remains very much a work in progress. Metro Transit has begun more aggressive checks for fare evaders in recent weeks, along with considering the possibility of installing turnstile gates in the long run to deter freeloaders. Yet a year and a half into the 40-point plan, crime rates on light rail trains and bus lines remain high.

In the ensuing months, the agency placed unarmed security guards at troubled transit stations and platforms, deployed non-sworn community service officers to do fare checks and revised its code of conduct to give riders clear explanations of what is expected of them on transit services.

Metro Transit also launched its Transit Service Intervention Project, partnering with community groups to build relationships with people who use transit sites as shelter and connect them with services such as housing and mental health programs.

Zelle and the other officials will spend four days this week at Twin City light rail stations and riding the light rail lines. Their observations on the state of public safety and the extent to which they feel the public’s pain will be posted online at