The Metropolitan Council and Metro Transit on Wednesday announced plans to combat crime on Twin Cities buses and light rail trains.
New Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle and Metro Transit General Manager Wes Kooistra , revealed plans to increase police presence on buses and trains over the coming months.
It comes after some high-profile violent incidents on Metro Transit services in recent months, including a fatal stabbing on a Blue Line train near the Mall of America, and a double shooting that killed one and seriously injured another on a bus near Target Center.
There have also been concerns raised by employees, with some light rail operators telling legislators at a hearing last week that they don't feel safe going to work, saying they've been verbally and physically abused and witnessed a number of crimes.
Kooistra and Zelle says that Metro Transit has already been implementing safety improvements this year, which includes buying and installing new cameras to provide real-time video that can be accessed by police, and doubling the staff in Metro Transit's "text for safety" program so passengers reporting trouble can "be engaged in sustained conversation until the situation is resolved."
It's also authorized more Metro Transit police plainclothes officers, and requiring police to work mandatory extra hours every week.
The new efforts on Wednesday goes further than that, including offering extra hours to any part- or full-time officers "willing to work more," authorizing 20,000 hours in total, costing $1.8 million.
It's also seeking other police forces to loan Metro Transit officers to provide more comprehensive coverage on buses and trains.
The final improvement relies on the Legislature, as it requires decriminalizing fare evasion so that it leads to a fine, but is no longer a criminal penalty.
This would see it treated on the same criminal level as using a MNPass lane without authorization, or not paying for a parking meter.
The bill would also see the creation of "transit ambassadors" who would check tickets, and connect anyone who didn't pay to public services that can help them if they're struggling.
This would also add "35 sets of eyes and ears" to transit services, rising to 90 full-time staff when phased in.
"We’ve made progress, but we have a long way to go,” said Zelle. “To aggressively address this problem, we need to dramatically increase safety and enforcement on all our buses and trains.
"The resources we have are enough for a dramatic increase in the ‘eyes-and-ears’ watching out for our customers in the short-term, but to implement a program of this magnitude permanently will require collaboration from the entire region as well as the legislature."