Messages from the Council Chair

Ensuring transit safety and enforcement

January 2021
Charlie Zelle

I have served as chair of the Metropolitan Council for nearly one year. It has been a year of change, a year of civil unrest, a year of pandemic response, a year of renewed commitment to supporting and investing in our communities, a year of partnership, a year of flexibility, and a year of growth.

As I came on board, we announced a renewed focus on transit safety that elevated two important outcomes. The first is freeing up our Metro Transit police to address more serious safety issues on our system rather than focusing on fare enforcement. The second involves additional improvements to the experience for our riders, who all deserve a safe ride wherever they’re traveling.

This proposal would require the legislature to authorize the Council to create an alternative enforcement process for fare evasion. Currently, fare evasion is classified as a misdemeanor, and carries a $180 fine. Citations must be issued by a sworn law enforcement officer and handled by the courts. With authorization from the legislature, we would have the ability to create a fare enforcement program using staff who are not police officers to inspect fares and process citations internally.

We are bringing forward this proposal again this year, and we’re hopeful the legislature will agree this is an important way to make the penalties fairer and support broader safety and customer service on our system.

But the concept of safety on our transit system also extends to how our customers feel on the buses and trains, at the stations and bus stops, and near our transit facilities in the community. Following the tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, community members asked us, along with other governments, to take a critical look at our Metro Transit Police Department.

We have formally partnered with the Citizens League to engage our customers, employees, and communities in conversations about their experiences with the Metro Transit Police Department. It’s one aspect of our commitment to bolder action on racial equity and more directly addressing its impacts on our region.

This work examining the Metro Transit police will necessarily be about reviewing the department’s policies, procedures, and relationships with other agencies. But we wanted to start by taking a long, deep look at how people feel about safety on our system and what that means from multiple perspectives.

The heart of that work is underway now. The Citizens League team is tapping community members and regional stakeholders to guide and steer the engagement effort to assure all the right voices are being heard. And that we’re taking a meaningful and comprehensive look at what safety means to both our customers and the members of our community who interact with our officers.

The team will also engage transit operators whose daily workspace is a bus or train.

We expect results over the next six months, with a final report in the summer. This information will help guide any next steps for our review, including recommendations to change policies or practices.

Our goal is to intentionally center our customers and our communities in this process. They will be leading the way as we examine what safety really means for our operators, our customers, our neighbors in community, the youth riding our system, and leaders.

I encourage you to get involved as the Citizens League team facilitates this broader regional transit safety conversation. Learn more and sign up for email updates about the transit safety review. And if you’re interested in serving on the community planning committee, send an email to [email protected] and they’ll let you know what you can do.