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Lawmakers say safety of light rail system a priority this session

Metro Transit light rail riders exit an eastbound train at the State Capitol station Feb. 5. Lawmakers say ensuring security on Metro Transit light rail trains is a priority this session. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Crime on Twin Cities light rail trains has been on the rise and state lawmakers said Wednesday they want more to be done to tackle the problem.

Last year saw an increase in incidents like robbery, theft and assault on Metro Transit’s heavily traveled Green and Blue Line trains. House and Senate members of the Legislative Commission on Metropolitan Government said that uptick has put more riders and transit operators at risk, and a bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) would require the Metropolitan Council — which operates the metro’s transit system — to contract with a third party to conduct a safety assessment of the light rail system.

“It’s important to everyone that this system work well and that people feel safe riding it,” Torkelson said.

Jeff Ziegler shares his experiences as a light-rail train operator with the Legislative Commission on Metropolitan Government during a Feb. 5 discussion on transit safety. Photo by Andrew VonBank

The commission took no action on the bill, HF3110. There is no Senate companion. The chair of the House Transportation Finance and Policy Division, Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls), said his panel would consider Torkelson’s bill in addition to other ideas to increase safety on the busy light rail system when session begins Feb. 11.

New Metropolitan Council Chair Charlie Zelle said during a news conference earlier this week the agency is committed to making the system safe to ride and that “we at Metro Transit need to up our game.”

WATCH House/Senate DFL news conference on transit safety, fare evasion

House DFLers during that same news conference unveiled another idea to improve the situation on light rail trains. HF3085, sponsored by Rep. Brad Tabke (DFL-Shakopee), would create a “transit ambassador program” to place Metro Transit personnel on trains. Those unarmed ambassadors would be trained in de-escalation techniques and be able to connect riders with services they may need.

Hornstein called the bill “a priority” and said it would be heard in committee next week. There is no Senate companion.

HF3085 also proposes to decriminalize fare evasion, turning the offense into a petty misdemeanor on par with a traffic ticket rather than a gross misdemeanor.

“We need to make sure we have the strongest and best transit system we can put together and this will be a giant step,” Hornstein said during Monday’s news conference.

Metro Transit officials and lawmakers from across the aisle have said safety on the region’s light rail system will be a priority this upcoming session. Blue Line light rail operator Jeff Ziegler stressed to lawmakers during Wednesday’s hearing the importance of the issue to him.

Ziegler “no longer feels safe” doing his job, he said. “I’m dealing with, in addition to the job I was trained to do, people who are belligerent and violent.”

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