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House transportation panel hears update on Metro Transit efforts to improve safety, service

A Metro Transit Green Line train passes the State Capitol. (House Photography file photo)
A Metro Transit Green Line train passes the State Capitol. (House Photography file photo)

With light rail trains passing outside the window, a House committee on Tuesday received an update about aspects of — and improvements to — the beleaguered Metro Transit system.

Part of the 2023 transportation finance and policy law aimed to better deliver a safe and reliable transit system. How’s it going?

“The bill we passed was designed to increase ridership so we make sure we have more people using the system and it’s benefitting everyone,” said Rep. Brad Tabke (DFL-Shakopee) during an informational hearing before the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.

A division of the Metropolitan Council, Metro Transit, per its website, “is the transportation resource for the Twin Cities, offering an integrated network of buses, light rail and commuter trains as well as resources for those who carpool, vanpool, walk or bike.”

Officials say the No. 1 goal of the system is the customer experience.

“We are not where we need to be, but we are definitely making headway toward creating a welcoming environment,” said Metropolitan Council Chair Charlie Zelle.

[MORE: See the Metro Transit presentation]

House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee 12/12/23

Metro Transit Police Chief Ernest Morales III said calls for assistance via 911 “steadily” decreased in 2023 until “a slight uptick” beginning in September when the weather turned colder. Overall, in the first three quarters of the year there has been a 33% decrease in reported crime, the agency’s statistics show.

Part of that, he said, is due to proactive policing and 24-hour supplemental security at seven locations.

“We still have a long way to go, we know there are problematic situations ongoing in the surrounding areas,” Morales said. “But we’re heading in the right direction.”

Metro Transit has implemented a transit rider investment program to address ridership and safety concerns, especially on light rail. Non-sworn TRIP personnel are trained to, among other things, issue administrative rather than criminal citations for fare evasion and act as a social services liaison.

“As we roll this out, we envision that will allow our police department to focus on more serious public safety threats and illegal behavior,” said General Manager Lesley Kandaras.

TRIP personnel, she said, will “really be the ones interacting with customers and being the eyes and ears on our system, making sure to educate people on the code of conduct and alerting us when there’s serious issues occurring.”

Targeted improvements in cleaning and repair standards are underway, and the Metropolitan Council is expected to adopt a revised rider code of conduct Wednesday, with an awareness and activation campaign in the first quarter of 2024. Officials say that, in addition to being posted online and shared on social media, they plan for updated signage to be placed in prominent locations at transit stations, transit centers and in vehicles.

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