Skepticism over Met Council’s latest plan to curb light rail crime

Promises, promises, promises. Met Council chair Charlie Zelle, who oversees the most dangerous light rail system in the nation, has unveiled yet another plan to curb rampant crime, drug use and vagrancy that increased 60 percent in the first quarter of 2023. The usual entourage of legislators and local elected officials were also on hand to congratulate themselves for funding what they dub an “intervention,” according to the Star Tribune.

Metro Transit riders will see more police and members of community service groups on buses, trains and light-rail platforms this summer as the agency attempts to beat back crime and get people who are homeless or experiencing mental health and substance abuse issues the help they need.

Thursday marked the start of the Transit Service Intervention Project, a $2 million effort to improve safety and passengers’ experiences on buses and trains, said Metropolitan Council Chairman Charlie Zelle. Legislators included funding for it in this session’s transportation bill.

“This day will mark more than a turning point but a benchmark toward gradual progress and, some ways, dramatic progress to creating a safe and comfortable environment,” Zelle said during a news conference at Target Field Station.

Yet at first glance, the intervention falls far short of the crackdown many who no longer ride public transit due to the threat to their safety have hoped for. It’s not even clear whether freeloaders and troublemakers confronted on the trains will be required to buy a ticket or else take a hike.

[Metro Transit Police Chief Ernest] Morales said the agency will step up efforts to enforce the transit code of conduct and crack down on fare evasion, though he stopped short of saying whether fare evaders would be kicked off trains.

“Yes, you are expected to pay the fare,” Morales said, adding that officers will be educating riders on how to pay.

More unarmed security guards and ambassadors will be on hand at the most notorious stations, while so-called “violence interrupters” will be expected to contain unruly behavior. What could go wrong?

Metro Transit will partner with community groups such as A Mother’s Love and Circle of Discipline to deescalate potentially volatile situations. Group members will ride trains and buses to build relationships with those using transit as a shelter and connect them with services such as housing and mental health programs.

It’s no surprise many Strib readers responded to the Met Council’s latest attempt to regain public confidence with skepticism and outright ridicule. A representative sample of their remarks indicates how far the agency has to go to turn around public perception and regain riders.

–The homeless, fare evaders and the criminals need to be evicted from the trains as a FIRST step. Making services “available” to them on the trains isn’t going to do ANYTHING. It’s a waste of $2 million.

–So it’s acceptable to use the trains as shelter and we’ll counsel those on the train. You must pay the fare but you can stay on the train if you don’t. Our security is unarmed. The boss says we hope to make “gradual progress.” Not much of a plan to get regular folks back.

–Everyone please calm down! Honestly, how could you possibly be worried? The Met Counsel is on it!

Even if the “intervention” succeeds as everyone hopes, the funding runs out at the end of the summer. What then?