MSP workers decry dangers of riding light rail line between terminals

Thousands of Twin Cities residents have chosen to abandon riding light rail. They’ve been driven off by the high crime rate and Met Council Chair Charles Zelle’s inability to make good on his long-standing promise to clean up the troubled system.

But it’s not that simple for some airport employees, who rely on the light rail connection to shuttle back and forth between the facility’s two terminals in order to work and park at Minneapolis-St. Paul International.

More workers are voicing concerns about parking at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where many must take the light-rail train between terminals to get to their jobs — an arrangement some see as unsafe and unreliable.

“We all have horror stories on that train day and night,” said Rick Paulson, who sits on the executive committee of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 1833, representing some 300 workers at MSP. “This is a horrible way to start your day.”

During the pandemic, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) allowed airport employees to park in the ramps at the main terminal, due to the lower volume of passengers. But this month airport officials reverted to the old policy calling for employees to park at terminal 2, leaving them little choice but to ride a light rail line that many consider too dangerous from personal experience.

Workers who park at Terminal 2 must ride the Blue Line to and from the main terminal, often late at night or during early morning hours. Though crime statistics don’t show a significant increase at the two terminal stations, many say they feel unsafe on the short ride.

“I have personally experienced erratic behavior, verbal harassment and physical threats while riding the transit,” said Samantha Anderson, who works as a ramp agent in Terminal 1. “I have also been approached by strangers asking for drugs, money and propositioning me for sex. I shouldn’t have to endure this or fear for my safety when I’m trying to get to and from work.”

Airport officials made an exception for Transportation Safety Administration employees, who are cleared to park at the main terminal. But no such luck for other airport workers, even after pressing their case at MAC’s most recent meeting.

[MAC spokesman Jeff] Lea said the airport “needs to make it easy for people to fly, park and have a great experience throughout their journey at MSP. The relocation of employee parking to pre-pandemic locations reduces the chances that travelers will unexpectedly get diverted to Terminal 2, thus raising the risk of customers missing their flights.”

…At Monday’s meeting, MAC Chair Rick King said the airport “is pulling out all the stops to make the train as safe as possible. Safety is very important.”

But a few airport employers aren’t waiting around for the crime and threatening behavior that can confront light rail riders to get better. They’ve taken matters into their own hands in order to assure their workers’ safety and peace of mind.

Some employee groups have made alternative arrangements for parking that avoid light rail. Employees for Delta Air Lines, MSP’s dominant carrier, park at a leased surface lot on 34th Avenue and ride a shuttle bus to Terminal 1 at the company’s expense. Sun Country Airlines provides a Lyft ride to crew members who feel unsafe taking light rail.