About 72% of Metro Transit customers say safety concerns have affected how and when they ride the metro area's buses and trains.

That fact, gleaned from 782 surveys returned by transit passengers this summer, speaks to the mission of a new Metropolitan Council work group formed to bolster safety onboard public transportation.

The Metro Transit Police Work Group's inaugural meeting Friday followed Metro Transit's announcement in July that it will add 15 police officers and 50 community service officers to provide passengers with a sense of security.

It also comes after a complaint was lodged against an employee or employees of the Metro Transit Police Department that will be investigated by a third party, spokesman Howie Padilla said. No further details were released Friday.

Metro Transit has 122 full-time and 58 part-time officers, according to a presentation before the work group Friday. In 2020, during the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, the department received 65,000 calls for service. So far this year, more than 49,000 calls have been logged.

Of the crimes reported in 2020, 12% were of a serious nature, such as homicides, robberies and sexual assaults. The department launched 2,485 investigations, including 550 involving felonies.

Most calls revolved around "livability issues" — smoking, alcohol consumption, vandalism and disorderly conduct — aboard buses and trains and at stations and stops, said Leah Palmer, head of policy and project development for Metro Transit police.

While relatively minor, these issues "make people feel unsafe," Palmer said. "If people feel uncomfortable, they will be reticent to use the system."

The survey, conducted by the Citizens League and Twin Cities Innovation Alliance, found that 56% of the respondents "agree" or "strongly agree" that smoking aboard transit affected their sense of safety, as did lighting (75%), cleanliness (73%) and whether the train or bus was on time (82%).

More detailed results from the survey will be released later.

Metro Transit officials hope that more officers and security measures, as well as enhanced cleaning of buses and trains, will help persuade leery customers to return to public transit once the pandemic ebbs.

Ridership this summer is about 45% of what it was before the COVID outbreak, and it's unclear what the future holds, given the spread and virulence of the coronavirus' delta variant.

The work group, comprised of eight Met Council members, is expected to craft a series of recommendations by February.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752

Twitter: @ByJanetMoore