As crime in our communities increases, crime on our transit system is increasing, too. Public attention to crime is warranted and more attention from policymakers is needed.
We agree with Rep. Betty McCollum’s commentary (“All that goes into making LRT safe,” Nov. 10), that crime and other challenging issues facing our light rail system demand state, regional and community-based solutions that are meaningful. Those solutions are complex and will demand sustainable funding.
Metro Transit will continue to engage in discussions about rising crime. But as the entity charged with the 24/7 operation of our regional transit system, we can’t afford to wait for the conclusion of these discussions.
Earlier this year, we invested more than a half-million dollars in overtime work for our Metro Transit police officers to focus on hot spots where criminal activity had risen. This is a temporary response with temporary funding. It is far from a sustainable solution.
We are better deploying our resources based on crime analytics. Uniformed officers are spending more time on trains and platforms and less time in squad cars. We are reviewing ways to improve our video capacity so that video on our platforms and trains can be watched by security personnel in real time.
This year alone, Metro Transit police officers have checked nearly 1.5 million fares. While important, fare checks take them away from policing duties. Fare checks and security should not compete for the same resources.
During the 2019 legislative session, Metro Transit proposed a policy change that would change fare evasion from a misdemeanor crime to a citation, similar to a parking ticket. This would allow non-sworn police personnel to check fares, allowing sworn Metro Transit police officers more time for pressing security issues. This bill was not passed by the 2019 Legislature. We are hoping for better in 2020.
We know addressing riders’ perceptions of security must go beyond policing. Unsanitary conditions on our trains and platforms contribute to a sense that rules are’t enforced. This year, we hired staff to expand light rail car cleaning from 40 hours per week to 320 hours per week, and customer complaints have been cut in half.
We’re adding 16 positions to focus on the cleaning and maintenance of our rail platforms, transit stations and bus stops. Metro Transit is committed to ensuring our facilities are an asset to the community and that we remove trash and address vandalism promptly.
These actions are not sustainable, because many are paid for with one-time funding.
We are addressing rising crime on transit within the constraints of our current resources, which is challenging for a police department spread across 130 transit routes with 92 rail cars, nearly 900 buses, 65 rail platforms, 12,000 bus stops, 1,100 bus shelters, 24 transit stations and 907 square miles.
Lasting solutions require sustainable funding, which is a luxury we do not have at the moment. Moving resources around from one area of need to another does not meaningfully address increases in crime. It just moves crime from one location to another.
Gov. Tim Walz and, before him, Gov. Mark Dayton, proposed long-term stable funding solutions that would address both safety on transit and transit expansion. Over the past eight years, funding needs for transit operations have been met with one-time appropriations from the Legislature.
Metro Transit welcomes the call to have a serious discussion about improving safety in communities and on light rail, but with these discussions must come a commitment to a shared responsibility for the actions and funding necessary to meet the reasonable expectations of our community members and riders.
Wes Kooistra is general manager of Metro Transit.