The Drive Logo


The Drive

News from around the state

Freeloading on Twin Cities light rail rises sharply, audit says

As the number of people riding the metro area's two light-rail lines soars, so does the number of passengers who take rides without paying.

New figures to be released at Wednesday's Met Council Audit Committee meeting show that between 8.3 percent and 10.4 percent of passengers on the Blue and Green lines bypass the fare box, up from between 3.4 percent and 4.7 percent when the last Light Rail Fare Evasion Audit was conducted two years ago.

Metro Transit's 2015 ridership figures showed 10,620,284 rides were taken on Blue Line and Green Line ridership in 2015 was 12,383,173. Metro Transit uses Automatic Passenger Counters, or overhead sensors inside the train to measure movements into and out of light-rail cars, to estimate ridership.

It was not immediately clear how many times passengers rode without paying, said spokesman Howie Padilla.

Metro Transit says 1,470 citations have been issued this year along with more than 8,000 warnings.

Both light-rail lines allow riders to board without passing through a turnstile or showing a conductor a ticket. Riders are supposed to swipe their electronic fare cards at readers on a rail platform or purchase a ticket from a machine. Passengers are required to have a ticket while on a platform or train or have proof that they swiped their card. 

Auditors arrived at their percentages of nonpaying riders by surveying 915 passengers who were required to show proof of payment. Some riders are allowed to ride free. They include children under 5, personal care attendants traveling with a passenger with a disability and travelers shuttling between Terminal 1 and 2 at the MSP Airport.

The number of non-paying riders rose substantially on the Blue Line, which runs from downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America in Bloomington, the audit found. Estimates show that the number of riders who skip paying on the Blue Line rose sharply from between 2.6 percent and 3.6 percent two years ago to between 7.6 and 11.8 percent, according to data collected between April and May 2016 when compared with a similar audit conducted in September and October of 2014.

The fare evasion rate on the Green Line, which runs between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, rose slightly but was comparable to the rate recorded in the 2014 audit. The most recent estimate showed that between 8.4 percent and 10.8 percent failed to pay. That compares with a rate of 4.6 percent to 9 percent identified in the 2014 audit.

Fares range from 50 cents within downtown zones to $2.25 at peak travel times. Failure to pay can result in a $180 fine.

A report last year from the Met Council found that the transit agency loses out on fares of $4,600 to $6,400 a week on the Blue Line while those on the Green Line ranged from $11,100 to $21,800 a week. The new audit did not calculate the amount of lost revenue.

Fare dodging scofflaws on the Blue Line are most likely to ride during the midday period and weekends while Green Line cheaters were most common at night, during the evening rush and on weekends. Compliance was highest on both lines during the morning peak periods. The Blue Line saw a drop in fare evasion at night while the Green Line saw a drop during midday hours the audit showed.

Fare dodgers on the Blue Line were most common on weekends between Target Field and U.S. Bank Stadium stations. The segment between Cedar/Riverside and Lake Street had high numbers of non-paying riders during the evening rush hours, weekday midday periods and on weekends while fare evaders were common on weekends along the segment from American Boulevard to Mall of America, the audit said.

On the Green Line, fare evasion is highest between Snelling and Western Avenues, ranging from 14 to 22 percent during evening rush hours, nights and weekends. Consultants who performed the audit also found high numbers of fare evaders between Union Station and Capitol/Rice Station on weekends.

One reason given for the big rise in fare evasion on the Blue Line may have come due to a change in enforcement by Metro Transit police. In the spring, the agency said all first-time offenders would be given a warning instead of a fine.

"This policy change could have made some riders more willing to risk riding without proof of payment knowing that a warning would be issued, rather than a citation," the audit said.

Conversely, fare evasion on the Blue Line in 2014 may have been suppressed as Metro Transit hired more officers ahead of the June 2014 opening of the Green Line. Officers checked fares with more frequency during the first half of 2014 which may have deterred riders' willingness to board without paying during the summer and fall, the audit concluded.

Police have stepped up fare enforcement between 2014 and 2016. Two years ago, officers on trains asked 1.4 million riders to show they have paid. Through September they have checked 1.6 million and are on pace to hit 2 million by Dec. 31.  The number of citations issued in 2016 was not immediately available.

Metro Transit has about 100 full-time and a pool of part-time police officers whose duties involve canvassing trains and platforms looking for fare flouters.

Metro Transit's fare evasion rate is in line with peer transit agencies in the United States, Canada and Australia that have similarly-constructed transit systems, with rates between 5 and 15 percent, the audit said.

Some systems, such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles require riders to pass through a barrier before boarding a train, as opposed to the honor system used by Metro Transit. But that has not eliminated the problem of fare evasion in those cities.

Weekend traffic: Tough going in the west metro with closures on Hwy. 100 and I-494

Road and lane closures with their associated detours are not fun for anybody, and this weekend will be a dozy for drivers in the west metro, at least for those who didn't head out of town for MEA weekend.

Both directions of Hwy. 100 through St. Louis Park and Edina will shut down from Friday night to Monday morning. The good news is that the Minnesota Department of Transportation says this ought to be the last one for the season, and that the entire rebuilding project will be done "within a few week," the agency said.

Further complicating travel is that southbound I-494 through Plymouth and Maple Grove will be closed from 10 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Monday while only one northbound lane will be open between I-394 and Hwy. 55.

That will leave Hwy.169 as the only through north-south route open on the west side of the city.

Further to the west, Hwy. 12 remains closed between Wayzata and Orono for another two weeks while in the south metro drivers will find Cedar Avenue reduced to a single lane in each direction on the Minnesota River bridge.

Traffic generating events include a Timberwolves preseason game Friday night at Target Center. The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team takes on Switzerland Sunday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium. And it's Homecoming at the U, so look lots of festivities on campus, including the 6:30 p.m. Friday parade that will travel down University Avenue from 12th Avenue SE. to Oak Street. On Saturday, roads near TCF Bank Stadium will be closed before and after the 11 a.m. game against Rutgers.

Here is your weekend road construction roundup:

1. I-494 in Plymouth/Maple Grove: All southbound lanes closed from 10 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Monday between the I-694/94/494 interchange and I-394. Northbound will be single lane from I-394 to the Hwy. 55 interchange.

2. Hwy. 12 in Wayzata and Orono: Both directions closed between County Road 112 and County Road 6 for the next two weeks.

3. Hwy. 100 in St. Louis Park: Both directions closed between I-394 and Crosstown Hwy. 62 from 10 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Monday. Ramps will close at 9 p.m. Friday.

4. County Road 81 in Brooklyn Park: Single lane from 63rd Avenue to West Broadway.

5. I-35W in Mounds View: Lanes narrow in the vicinity of County Road H due to bridge construction. Ramp from southbound 35W to County H is closed.

6. I-694 in Shoreview: Westbound traffic has two lanes separated by a concrete barrier between I-35E and Lexington Avenue.

7. I-35E in the northeast metro: Intermittent lane closures between County E and Main Street.

8. Hwy. 8 in Franconia: Closed between the south junction of Hwy. 95 in Franconia and downtown Taylors Falls.

9. White Bear Avenue in St. Paul: Road work between I-94 to Beech Street and closed to all traffic between Wilson Avenue and 3rd Street.

10. I-94 from St. Paul to Maplewood: Occasional lane closures between Century Avenue and Mounds Blvd.

11 Hwy. 36 at Lexington Avenue in Roseville: Eastbound is still using a bypass at Lexington Avenue. Ramps to and from westbound Hwy. 36 to Lexington are open.

12. Hwy. 5 in St. Paul: Right lanes closed from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily.

13. Cedar Avenue in Eagan: Both directions reduced to a single lane over the Minnesota River bridge from 8 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Monday; reduced to two lanes between Diffley Road and Nicols Road. Ramp from westbound Hwy. 13 to northbound Cedar closed.