Crime aboard Metro Transit's buses and trains declined by nearly 8% in the first three months of the year, even as the service carried more passengers.

Transit agency leaders say there's still more work to be done to make sure riders feel safe.

Some 2,232 crimes were reported in the first three months of this year, compared with 2,417 the same period last year. Serious crimes identified by the FBI, including homicides, robberies and assaults, declined during the quarter by 16%.

At the same time, overall ridership increased 13% when compared with the same period last year. However, ridership is still less than two-thirds of what it was before the pandemic upended commuter patterns and decimated transit use.

"We still continue to make progress in advancing our work, however we know we have a lot of work ahead of us," Metro Transit General Manager Lesley Kandaras said Monday.

Since adopting a safety plan in 2022, Metro Transit has been trying to beef up its security presence, particularly on light rail. But it has been challenging to hire the personnel needed for the effort.

Metro Transit is down 117 full- and part-time police officers and 55 community service officers (CSOs) — students enrolled in law enforcement programs who patrol buses, trains and stations. To lure more staff, Metro Transit has increased pay for police officers, and it is featuring $4,000 hiring bonuses for full-time police officers and up to $18,000 in tuition reimbursement for CSOs.

In addition, the agency has hired 18 Transit Rider Investment Program (TRIP) agents who ride light rail, check fares and write tickets, provide information to passengers, and administer first aid, including for drug overdoses. The agents, who conduct more than 500 fare inspections daily, are riding light rail seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., said Brian Funk, Metro Transit's chief operating officer.

The goal of the TRIP program, which was rolled out two months ago, is to deploy 24 agents covering two daily shifts, said Funk. Five additional agents will start work in coming weeks.

"We're continuing to learn as we go," Funk said.

Metro Transit has added camera monitors to buses throughout the system to enhance a feeling of safety, and it continues to replace transit seats and add cleaning shifts during bus layovers at the Mall of America and Brooklyn Center Transit Center.

The Metropolitan Council, which oversees Metro Transit, last year signed contracts totaling $11 million with global security giant Allied Universal to patrol seven problem transit stations throughout the metro, as well as Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Kandaras said the goal is to add the Green Line's Central Station to the mix.

The Met Council has also hired 10 community organizations to work on light rail to connect passengers with mental health resources, emergency shelter information and other services.

Metro Transit Police Chief Ernest Morales III noted many of society's problems, including mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and homelessness, are reflected on the transit system.

"That's unfortunate, but that's the reality of where we are," he said. "We're working with our partners to help find resources necessary to help people in need."