Minnesota legislators propose change to improve Metro Transit experience for riders

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Democratic state lawmakers are pitching legislation that would decriminalize fare evasion on public transit.

A proposal was introduced Monday in the Legislature that involves softening fare evasion on Metro Transit trains and buses and instead relying on a new network of unarmed ambassadors to encourage riders to pay their way.

The new uniformed ambassadors would enforce penalties for fare evasion. It remains unclear how many ambassador jobs would exist or how much the program in total will cost.

"This bill is about making sure our transit system is safe and welcoming for any Minnesotan who chooses to use it," said House Rep. Brad Tabke, DFL-Shakopee. "By adding personnel to light rail trains, we are replacing a flawed system with one that will increase safety and fare compliance."

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Philadelphia, Seattle and Portland are among places that have implemented similar public transit policies.

"There’s no question we need help to improve the feeling of safety," said Metropolitan Council Chairman, Charlie Zelle.

The proposal comes after recent violence on the light rail trains and violence involving bus drivers last year.

Metro Transit’s current policy is to issue a warning the first time a rider does not show proof of payment, according to a news release. After the second offense, the fine for riding without proof of payment is $180. Less than 3% of fare evasion citations are actually paid.

The administrative penalties under the new proposal include a $35 fine, and all proceeds go towards supporting the program. Transit ambassadors would be able to inspect fares and issue administrative citations, allowing law enforcement officers who currently check fares to spend their time responding to more serious incidents.

"(Transit ambassadors) are not police officers. They have the ability to check fares., they will also be giving people direction. They’ll be frankly the eyes and ears — if there’s any bad behavior, they can stop it right on the mark," Zelle said.