Met Council members raise concerns over light rail safety plan

Photo: Joe Caffrey/KSTP-TV

A citizen posted photos of drug paraphernalia and other garbage strewn around this week in what’s just another day in the life of passengers at the 46th Street light rail station in Minneapolis.

46th Street LRT stop. Filled a garbage bag with “harm reduction” this morning. And put out a fire.

Crime on Metro Transit light rail lines and buses has continued to climb this year. So the results of a summer survey of riders released at a recent Met Council meeting shouldn’t be a surprise. MinnPost notes it wasn’t even close.

Bus and light rail transit riders gave Metro Transit staff some clear feedback this summer on how new civilian transit ambassadors should focus their efforts: safety and fare enforcement.

By a two-to-one margin among the 2,000 responses gathered in June and July, riders cited those two issues above efforts to help riders navigate the system and pay fares.

The concept of so-called transit ambassadors came about as a result of new legislation to address crime and safety concerns on the Metro Transit system. The first class of 22 of the non-police personnel will not even be hired, trained and on the job until after the turn of the year. But some Met Council members have already expressed doubts about the Transit Rider Investment Program before it even gets on track.

During a presentation on the program, [interim manager Leah] Palmer said the TRIP personnel need the authority to carry out fare inspections, but to not be police officers, to be more approachable. But they will have radios and be able to ask for police assistance.

Met Council Member Judy Johnson said she was concerned about people who rarely pay fares and who are unlikely to pay the fines. Some, she said, might refuse to show ID or not have photo ID.

“This is a system built for all of those who have all of those things and go, ‘Gosh, I really know I should pay this, I’d really like the discount and I’ll never do it again,’” Johnson said.

“What do we do about those who aren’t gonna pay, aren’t gonna come and contest (tickets), may not have an address, may not have a place where we can find them?” Johnson asked. 

When push comes to shove with troublemakers, the ambassadors will not have the authority or training to take action. And there’s no guarantee a transit police officer will be within range for backup, given the drastic shortage of officers and continuing challenge of recruiting new hires.

Johnson said there are also people who are around stations or on vehicles to do mischief — to deal drugs, to prey on other people who use the transit system.

“I’d like to know, if they don’t pay, then what?” she asked. “They could care less, I would imagine, about a little written ticket when they’ve got drug deals going on. I’m being very blunt. That’s a problem for us. That’s the problem we’re trying to solve.”

Tough questions that Metro Transit will need to answer before restoring ridership levels to anywhere near pre-pandemic levels.

[Metro Transit General Manager Lesley] Kandaras said the overall plan is to “create layers of presence. Our police officers will still be out there, our supplemental security and then these transit rider investment personnel, in addition to the transit service intervention program.

“The more we’re out there, the more we’re monitoring the situation, the more likely we are to be able to address it effectively,” Kandaras said.