Citing increasing crime on and near light-rail trains in the Twin Cities, a rural Minnesota lawmaker plans to introduce several safety proposals that deserve serious consideration.
Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, a leading GOP voice on transportation issues, plans to introduce legislation during the 2020 session. Torkelson told an editorial writer that he's heard from people in the metro area and greater Minnesota who describe unpleasant experiences they've had and who worry about their safety when they use the system.
"Minnesotans use the light rail to commute to work and school. I know many people from different parts of the state who drive to the Mall of America and take the train to sports events and or to the airport," Torkelson said. "Sadly, Metro Transit's own data reveals … a record number of assaults, robberies and other criminal activity taking place on trains and at light rail stations."
Among the worthy ideas Torkelson suggests are:
• Looking at the costs/benefits of constructing barriers or turnstiles to keep those without tickets off platforms to enhance security and increase fare compliance.
• Directing Metro Transit and the Metropolitan Council to prioritize an increase in transit officers and fare inspectors.
Metro Transit reported 59 aggravated assaults — violent incidents that involved a weapon causing serious injury — through July 31. In comparison, there were 52 in all of 2018 and 41 in 2017. And St. Paul police have reported increases in gun violence around the Green Line, which runs between the downtowns.
Torkelson said he decided to pursue legislative fixes after hearing complaints and watching a recent TV news report on light-rail safety. He said no bill has been drafted and that legislation isn't necessarily the best or most typical way to change transit security policies. He recognizes that Metro Transit and law enforcement are working on the problems, but said that more must be done. His proposals, he said, are intended to spark discussion and action and bring the safety concerns "to the forefront.''
That's especially important, Torkelson added, as the state is poised to spend more than $2 billion on a Southwest light-rail line to the southern suburbs — the most expensive transit project in state history. Minnesotans should feel confident that they can use transit without fear of being robbed or assaulted, he said.
When news of Torkelson's proposals broke last week, some social media posters were quick to question why a legislator from Hanska, about 28 miles west of Mankato, was interested in Twin Cities mass transit. And others pointed out that the state Republicans haven't exactly lined up to provide more mass transit funding.
But as Star Tribune Editorial Board members have experienced firsthand, conditions on light-rail trains have deteriorated over the past year. If it takes a Republican legislator from greater Minnesota to sound the alarm for a greater focus on public safety on light rail trains, so be it.
Torkelson's ideas deserve a full hearing by members of both parties.