As frustration mounts over conditions on Metro Transit buses and trains, the Twin Cities agency is warning fare evaders that they risk fines as it implements a new fare-checking program, beginning Monday on light-rail lines.
As part of the Transit Rider Investment Program (TRIP), nonpolice community service officers will ask riders on-board to show proof that they paid for their ride. Scofflaws will be issued noncriminal citations.
The citations will be handed out on both trains and buses, but enforcement will begin on the Blue and Green light-rail lines.
Before the Legislature approved TRIP this year, police could issue only misdemeanor citations to fare evaders, agency spokesman Drew Kerr wrote in a November post on Metro Transit's website.
Such citations have been rare in recent years, Metro Transit data shows. While more than 1,300 were issued in 2019, that number dropped to 573 in 2020, 10 in 2021 and 49 in 2022.
Few of those citations issued by Metro Transit Police were paid — only 2.6%, a 2020 Metropolitan Council audit found. When they were paid, the money went to court, not to Metro Transit.
Kerr wrote that using community service officers instead of police to inspect fares will allow police to focus on serious issues.
The new citations, which must be paid within 90 days, begin at $35 for a first violation. Penalties escalate up to $100 and a 120-day prohibition for four or more violations. These administrative citations will not appear on criminal background reports, according to Metro Transit.
Riders who can't prove they paid the fare or provide identification will be asked to leave the train; if they refuse, police will be called and violators will be cited for trespassing.
First-time fare evaders can reduce fines by buying fares to be used later or by watching a video about transit expectations, according to Metro Transit.
Community service officers will be trained how to respond to mental health issues, de-escalation, first aid, naloxone administration and CPR, the agency said.
Last week, the Met Council transportation committee approved an expanded rider code of conduct for the transit system. The council is expected to approve the code this month. It would take effect in the first quarter of 2024.