Metro Transit is trying an unusual test to improve passenger safety aboard the Green and Blue lines: shortening its light-rail trains from three cars to two.

The idea is to concentrate the presence of Metro Transit police and community service officers aboard the two-car trains, giving passengers a better sense of safety, according to spokesman Drew Kerr. Light-rail trains typically feature three cars.

Deploying fewer cars also will help Metro Transit keep the trains tidy. Shorter trains are "easier to clean," Kerr said.

The pilot project, which began last weekend and will run until Aug. 19, comes as the transit agency is seeking ways to lure back passengers who abandoned public transportation once the COVID-19 pandemic struck and as remote work took hold.

Metro Transit officials concede those efforts have been slowed because of ongoing challenges with crime and the perception of crime, particularly aboard the two light-rail lines that serve primarily Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Concentrating police on shorter trains also comes as the Metro Transit Police Department struggles, like many law enforcement agencies, to hire more officers.

As of June, the department was down by more than 60 full-time officers, partly because of retirements but also because more positions have been budgeted.

In addition, an ambitious plan to hire more community service officers — who check fares, answer passenger questions and provide a law enforcement presence aboard light-rail trains — has been thwarted by a challenging job market.

"This can give some riders a sense of security when they see police officers and community service officers," Kerr said. He added that some train sets may go back to three vehicles during periods of increased ridership.

The idea came out of a safety and security action plan devised by Metro Transit with the help of employees and community members.

Each light-rail car generally can carry up to 132 people, both sitting and standing. The Green Line, which connects downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, ferried 19,500 passengers on average every weekday in May, with the Blue Line seeing about 15,600 a day. Overall, light-rail ridership remains at about half of what it was before the pandemic.

Once the test is over in August, Metro Transit officials will evaluate feedback from customers and train operators and review on-time performance and other measures to determine next steps, Kerr said.

When asked if customers will feel safe aboard shorter trains as COVID continues to spread, Kerr said passengers can wear masks if they feel unsafe. They're no longer required to do so, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends that masks be worn aboard public transportation.