Met Council finally looks to fare turnstiles to deter light rail crime

Everyone agrees the high crime rate on Metro Transit light rail train presents a threat to the public and regaining respectable ridership levels. The quickest way to restore order and public confidence would be to hire more transit cops. But the agency’s efforts to recruit more officers continue to lag, leaving dozens of openings unfilled.

The next most practical step to reining in bad behavior and crime on light rail lines was outlined in American Experiment’s 2022 Off the Rails report on Minnesota’s transportation system.

The Twin Cities’ light-rail system sees more crimes per billion passenger-miles than any other light-rail system. The main reason light rail is so attractive to potential criminals is the lack of rigorous fare enforcement. The solution is to put fences and turnstiles around every light-rail stop and not allow people inside unless they have paid their fares.

The Blue and Green lines currently operate largely on the honor system, enabling virtually anyone to board and remain on a train, ticket or not. Yet the Met Council has resisted the installation of turnstiles and other barriers to prevent freeloaders and troublemakers from riding the rails, until now.

At the Met Council’s latest meeting, Metro Transit unveiled a new metric on the agency’s infamous 40-point Safety and Security Action Plan–a study on the feasibility of installing fare turnstiles and other barriers at light rail stations.

“Looking at the question of faregates, really evaluating what it would take and what are the opportunities related to implementing our stations with fare gates,” said Metro Transit Assistant Director Jim Harwood at the meeting.

Afterward, the Star Tribune called it a “potential new approach” to improving public safety.

Officials said they would study whether adding gates or turnstiles at key light-rail stations will deter fare dodgers and thus increase passengers’ sense of security. The possible addition of barriers “is a question we get a lot,” said Metro Transit General Manager Lesley Kandaras.

The light-rail stations to be studied will be Franklin Avenue and 46th Street on the Blue Line; Snelling Avenue on the Green Line; and Warehouse District/Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, which is served by both lines.

The report on the feasibility and cost of retrofitting the system’s 37 light rail stations with faregates will be concluded next spring. The study will also look into upgrading station lighting and security cameras. Yet even with safety improvements, the presence of law enforcement will be as vital as ever.

“That level of enforcement still needs to be present in most areas to monitor for people who are still jumping the fare, sliding under the gates, using the emergency egress,” said Metro Transit Chief Operating Officer Brian Funk.

If implemented, the first fare turnstiles could be operational by the end of 2024.