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Minnesota Legislature

House division OKs pilot transit ambassador program in effort to boost safety on trains

Judd Schetnan, Metropolitan Council government affairs director, answers a question during testimony in the House Transportation Finance and Policy Division Feb. 20 on HF3085, sponsored by Rep. Brad Tabke, right. Photo by Paul Battaglia

How best to stanch an increase in crime aboard Metro Transit light rail trains? House DFLers and Republicans on Thursday again aired their disagreements over how to tackle the issue.

The House Transportation Finance and Policy Division approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Brad Tabke (DFL-Shakopee) that would appropriate $1 million from the General Fund and direct the Metropolitan Council — which oversees Metro Transit — to create a six-month pilot project transit ambassador program similar to those rolled out recently in cities like San Francisco and Seattle.

The unarmed agents would ride light rail trains to check fares, assist passengers in connecting to services they may need, be on the watch for quality-of-life issues like smoking on trains or platforms, and de-escalate potentially violent situations.

“This is an issue that has been brewing for quite some time and it needs to be addressed,” Tabke said.

Under the bill, HF3085, Metro Transit would be required to launch the program within six months and would report back to the Legislature at its conclusion.

Metro Transit saw a jump in crime on its buses and light rail trains in 2019. House Photography file photo

Tabke’s bill would also decriminalize fare evasion, making the infraction more in line with a parking ticket instead of a gross misdemeanor. Metropolitan Council Chair Charlie Zelle said last week that most tickets for fare evasion aren’t paid and that the proposal would free up Metro Transit police officers to focus on more serious crime.

“We know we have to be able to give everyone the safe ride they expect,” said Judd Schetnan, the Met Council’s director of government affairs.

HF3085, as amended, was re-referred to the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division. There is no Senate companion.

Republicans on the panel voiced a number of issues they have with the bill, from the amount of money proposed for the pilot transit ambassador program (too little), to the legislation’s timeline (too slow), to its approach to cracking down on fare-jumpers (too lenient).

“This is more a social service program than it is a safety and security bill,” said Rep. Jon Koznick (R-Lakeville).

DFLers have said the transit ambassador program is a start and would be coupled with a number of moves Metro Transit recently announced aimed at increasing safety, including more officers and live security cameras aboard trains.

“We’re moving forward, members,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls), the division chair. “[The bill will mean] more eyes and ears on the trains.”

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