Some employees at Metro Transit are demanding widespread changes in the way the agency serves minority communities in the Twin Cities.
Spurred by the death of George Floyd and its aftermath, about 200 past and present employees of the Metropolitan Council, which operates Metro Transit, signed the June 26 letter outlining the changes they seek.
They question how decisions are made at the regional planning body, especially those affecting people of color, and call for changes in the way public transportation is policed.
Metro Transit riders and operators “are disproportionately impacted by the trauma of George Floyd’s death,” according to the letter, which notes that a quarter of the system’s passengers and half its bus drivers are Black.
The site of Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, and the subsequent unrest occurred along two of Metro Transit’s busiest bus routes in south Minneapolis, prompting the employees to write that “our riders are leading the uprising and demand change.”
The letter was addressed to Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle, Regional Administrator Meredith Vadis and Metro Transit General Manager Wes Kooistra.
Met Council leaders declined to publicly comment on the letter Monday, saying they preferred to confer with the employees first.
“This was a very thoughtful letter that raises important issues and questions, it deserves an equally thoughtful response,” spokesman John Schadl said in an e-mail.
Several changes were suggested for the Metro Transit Police Department, which is under review by the council. Details about the departmental review have not been publicly disclosed.
Employees called for “appropriate resources for public safety,” including the deployment of transit ambassadors to help with fare enforcement, “an activity that doesn’t require force.”
The idea of putting unarmed ambassadors on buses and trains failed to gain traction this year at the Legislature, which was increasingly focused on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those who signed the letter favor diverting resources from the Metro Transit police budget to community-based programs that provide emergency medical and social work services to transit passengers experiencing homelessness or mental health crises.
The letter calls for the Met Council to be better prepared for future demonstrations, including developing a plan to continue operations during periods of unrest. During the recent Floyd protests, Metro Transit shut down service for about a week, leaving many regular customers stranded.
The letter notes the Met Council also should revise contracts that permit its vehicles to transport law enforcement officers, military personnel or protesters who have been arrested — similar to pacts struck in cities such as Seattle, Boston and Philadelphia.
The writers call for more transparency regarding Metro Transit police activity, including a public reporting mechanism that would document the use of force, response times to calls and complaints and investigations involving officers.
The letter also questions the way feedback from staffers and the community is handled by Met Council leaders “who then have exclusive authority to decide which ideas they are comfortable pursuing.” Internal reviews and “introspection” have resulted in “no meaningful or longstanding results,” the letter states.