Metro Transit vows to improve safety with state funded ‘intervention’
A public safety crisis involving violent crime and drug use on light rail in the Twin Cities has gotten so bad Metro Transit is launching an “intervention” with help from the state legislature.
Lawmakers and transit leaders gathered at Target Field Station in Minneapolis on Thursday to announce The Transit Safety Intervention Project – a $2 million program to support extra outreach by police and community organizations over the next 12 weeks.
“This has been four and a half years in the making,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis). Hornstein and Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) pushed to include funding for the program in the transportation bill signed by Governor Tim Walz last week.
“Today, we turn the page and start a new chapter, and I’m very, very excited for the work ahead,” Horstein stated.
The previous chapter at Metro Transit has been marked by increasing violent crime and drug use on trains, first exposed by 5 INVESTIGATES in 2021.
Despite previous commitments to address the problem, Metro Transit leaders say this time will be different.
“We now are getting the resources we need,” said Charlie Zelle, Chair of the Metropolitan Council, which oversees Metro Transit.
“I’m confident that this day will mark not just a turning point, but a benchmark toward progress.”
As part of the intervention project, police and social workers plan to hold outreach events at the Target Field, Lake Street/Midtown, Mall of America, Central and Union Depot stations.
Metro Transit Police Chief Ernest Morales III, who took over earlier this year, says the operation will help provide a visible presence on the system as his department continues to try to hire more officers.
“Make no mistake about it, while we enforce the code of conduct in an empathetic, compassionate, respectable manner, we will enforce the law,” Morales said.
Morales added that his officers are also conducting “fare evasion operations” at some high-crime stations but that the contacts with those who failed to buy a ticket will be “educational.”
“We’re going to educate you and inform you that you must pay,” Morales said.
5 INVESTIGATES documented zero fare inspection while riding trains throughout the month of March.
Now, Metro Transit hopes to change that with a second state-funded initiative called the Transit Rider Investment Program.
The agency is hoping to hire 26 transit safety officers – non-sworn personnel who would have the ability to issue administrative citations for riding without a ticket rather than criminal citations, which can only be given out by police.
Vice Chair of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Brad Tabke (DFL-Shakopee), said the goal of the program and the safety officers is to increase ridership on the system.
“These are people who will be there day in and day out with eyeballs on the stations and on the entire system to make sure that we’re giving people the help that they need,” Tabke said.
The plans announced Thursday did not include closing off light rail stations.
5 INVESTIGATES found riders had also been asking Metro Transit for years to add gates and turnstiles to help limit fare evasion and deter misconduct. Earlier this year, the transit system in St. Louis announced a $52-million project to close off its system because of similar safety concerns.
In his budget proposal, Gov. Walz had called for money to enclose up to three light rail stations with barriers.
A spokesperson for the agency said after the press conference that it is something they will continue to explore.