New chair expands “eyes and ears” on Metro Transit to enhance public safety

Date: Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Newly appointed Metropolitan Council Chair Charlie Zelle, flanked by Metro Transit General Manager Wes Kooistra and Metro Transit Chief of Police Eddie Frizell, announced today his plans and commitment to address the growing concerns of safety on the region’s largest transit system.

“Every transit rider has an absolute right to feel safe when using any form of public transportation,” said Chair Zelle.

In recent weeks, the Metro Transit community has witnessed several high-profile criminal incidents on its buses and trains. Additionally, nuisance behavior such as smoking on trains and other offenses continues to raise concerns among riders.

“Transit is a place where people gather, where communities come together,” said Zelle. “What’s happening on transit reflects what’s happening in our neighborhoods and cities. Inappropriate and criminal behavior on the streets translates into bad behavior on our transit system. The issues are bigger than transit, and they deserve the attention of us all.”

Over the past year, Metro Transit, a division of the Metropolitan Council, has stepped up efforts to enforce safety and quality of life issues on buses and trains. The officers of the Metro Transit Police Department worked more than 10,000 additional hours in 2019 to increase their presence on the system’s 1,000+ transit vehicles while train-cleaning staff was increased eight-fold.

Real-time video and additional hours of police presence coming

In 2020, Metro Transit has already begun drastically expanding eyes and ears on the system to enhance passenger safety by:

  • Purchasing and installing new and improved cameras with real-time video that will allow police to respond as events happen on all 90 rail cars

  • Doubling staffing for the “text for safety” program so passengers reporting trouble will be engaged in sustained conversation until the situation is resolved

  • Authorizing more Metro Transit Police details of plainclothes officers

  • Requiring Metro Transit Police to work mandatory additional hours each week

Additional new efforts announced today include:

  • Offering additional hours to any part- or full-time officers willing to work more, with a total authorization of more than 20,000 hours or $1.8 million in 2020

  • Seeking additional resources through personnel loans from other regional police forces

  • Requesting support from the legislature to address fare evasion with administrative citations and a transit ambassador program that will add 35 sets of eye and ears to transit vehicles initially, ramping up to 90 full-time staff when fully phased in

“We’ve made progress, but we have a long way to go,” said Zelle. “To aggressively address this problem, we need to dramatically increase safety and enforcement on all our buses and trains. The resources we have are enough for a dramatic increase in the ‘eyes-and-ears’ watching out for our customers in the short-term, but to implement a program of this magnitude permanently will require collaboration from the entire region as well as the legislature.”

Legislation would free up officers to prevent and respond to crime

On Thursday, Zelle will be testifying before the House Transportation Finance Committee to begin a legislative dialogue on the importance and need for increased transit safety. Lawmakers are considering legislation to authorize “transit ambassadors” to monitor buses and trains, check to ensure riders have valid fares, assist customers, and report trouble. Ambassador-like staffing has recently added needed eyes and ears on systems like Seattle’s Sound Transit LRT system and San Francisco’s BART system, although these programs are too new to offer clear results. Transit providers across the country are struggling with similar crime and nuisance issues, and Metro Transit officials continue to collaborate with peer agencies on solutions that show promise.

“We need the support of transit advocates, the business community, local elected officials, public officials, and lawmakers to help maintain our status as one of the best transit systems in the country,” said Zelle. “The transit system belongs to everyone, and we need community involvement to help it succeed.”

Posted In: Transportation

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