Metro Transit’s top law enforcement official delivered a slew of crime statistics from the agency’s bus and train systems to a pair of House transportation panels Tuesday.
The statistics came in response to a data request from Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska), chair of the House Transportation Finance Committee, and detailed Metro Transit Police Department efforts to combat a spike in incidents last year.
Lawmakers on the House Transportation Finance and House Transportation and Regional Governance Policy committees heard from Metropolitan Council and Metro Transit officials on crime prevention efforts, a bus operator staffing shortage and a co-location agreement related to the Southwest Light Rail Transit project.
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Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington told lawmakers his department has stepped up its efforts to combat crime on the transit system’s buses and trains as part of a long-term professionalization of the force. That effort includes increasing numbers of officers riding portions of bus and train routes, and more than 2 million fare checks this year, he said.
Metro Transit police have also debuted a Homeless Action Team, Harrington said, to work with the estimated 180-250 people who are homeless and take shelter on the region’s transit system.
Some lawmakers, however, expressed concern that crime on Metro Transit’s system is a persistent problem.
“It’s really important that people feel safe when they utilize these systems,” Torkelson said. “And the biggest complaint I’ve heard from users of your system is that they don’t feel safe while riding a train or riding a bus. People deserve to feel safe.”
Shortage of drivers
The committees also heard from transit officials on the agency’s efforts to reverse a current shortage of bus drivers.
Brian Lamb, Metro Transit’s general manager, said they are roughly 90 drivers short of full staffing. He placed the blame on the region’s booming economy and low unemployment rate, but said Metro Transit is aiming to return to full staffing by May 2019.
“We’ve never been in a situation where we’ve had such a difficult time hiring, and retaining, operators,” Lamb said.
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