Last Monday, a widely reported account of fare dodgers on the metro’s light-rail lines surfaced during a Minnesota House Transportation Policy and Finance committee meeting. Rep. Mark Uglem, R-Champlin, introduced an amendment to the transportation funding bill ordering the Metropolitan Council to find a solution about passengers who don’t pay their fares.

A Met Council fare audit found that these scofflaws could cost Metro Transit up to $1.5 million annually in revenue. About 2.6 percent to 9 percent of those taking the Blue and Green lines failed to pay, the audit found. “This is astounding,” Uglem said. The trains operate on an honor system, although some 200 transit police officers patrol them to ensure passengers pay their way. “What are these people doing?” Uglem said.

More recent Metro Transit figures indicate that among those stopped by police, 6,446 were given warnings for not paying, and 1,592 were cited or arrested for nonpayment. (A ticket bears a $180 fine.) If everyone cited paid their ticket, $286,560 would have been collected in fines.

“The message we’re sending is that in Minnesota, you can cheat the system,” said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa.

Rep. Frank Hornstein, D-Minneapolis, pointed out that he was the only committee member who regularly uses light rail. While he’s seen transit cops checking for scofflaws, he conceded there is room for improvement.

The Twin Cities light-rail system doesn’t have turnstiles or ticket-taking conductors to discourage fare dodgers such as those in New York or Los Angeles. Judd Schetnan, Metro Transit’s director of government affairs, told the lawmakers that outfitting existing light-rail stations would cost in excess of $100 million. Beyond that, outfitting the proposed Southwest and Bottineau lines with barriers would cost an additional $34 million, along with annual operating costs of $1.3 million.

The amendment was subsequently withdrawn.

 

Janet Moore 612-673-7752 Twitter:@MooreStrib