Messages from the Council Chair

Ensuring a welcoming, safe ride

February 2020

Charlie ZelleAs the former CEO of a multi-state, scheduled-route bus company and the former commissioner of MnDOT, I’ve been engaged in leading safety cultures for more than 35 years. I know from firsthand experience that public transportation is a lifeline for millions of people. Not only is it the only mode of traveling for some, it helps expand business development and work opportunities for the communities we serve.

That is why addressing transit safety is my top concern. A number of serious and highly visible crimes on our transit system have occurred at a time when inappropriate behavior, such as smoking, are already making people feel unwelcome and unsafe on our system.

Metro Transit has been working hard to address this problem. We are:

  • Beefing up police presence on transit vehicles and in identified hot spots through overtime and partnerships with other law enforcement agencies.

  • Installing better security cameras in transit vehicles with livestreaming capability.

  • Doubling the staff monitoring in our ‘text for safety’ program making it possible for riders to quickly and anonymously report problems.

  • Greatly increasing the staff dedicated to cleaning vehicles and improving public facilities like stops and stations.

Problem is bigger than Metro Transit

Overall, crime in the Twin Cities has been on the rise, and because our buses and trains are gathering places for people to get from one place to another, the problems that we see across the region are visible on transit. Addressing this will take a larger effort.

The best way to ensure our system is safe is to have more eyes and ears from Metro Transit on our vehicles and at transit stops and stations. One bill in the Minnesota Legislature takes an innovative approach to do that.

Under current law, fare jumping is a criminal offense on par with a DUI or some forms of assault. Only a licensed police officer can write a ticket for a charge that serious. However, failing to pay a $2.50 fare is closer to an expired parking meter, and that’s how prosecutors and judges see it. Last year we wrote 1,500 fare-dodging tickets, but only 45 fines were paid.

Proposal would free up police to focus on criminal activity

Representative Brad Tabke’s bill would reclassify fare dodging as a petty misdemeanor. That would allow Metro Transit to hire fare inspectors who could walk through buses and trains, helping customers get to their destinations and ensuring that people are getting the best ride possible. They would be trained to deescalate potentially volatile situations and to help people in crisis find the help they need. Backup assistance from Metro Transit police would be available if needed.

While those tickets would cost less individually, fine collection could be effectively managed just like unpaid parking tickets. Most importantly, the enhanced process would free up transit police to concentrate on addressing crime, instead of writing tickets for fare dodging.

This bill allows us to make better use of the resources we have, putting more people in Metro Transit uniforms on the 1,000 transit vehicles we operate every day. From my time running a bus company, I can tell you that there is no transit system more dangerous than one that is underfunded. Safety is the result of deliberate and thoughtful investment.

We owe it to all of our riders, and the region as a whole, to ensure that everyone feels safe and welcome on Metro Transit.

February 12: New chair expands "eyes and ears" on Metro Transit to enhance public safety