DFL, GOP lawmakers look for transit safety fix

Green line train Tim Nelson
A rider boards a Green Line light rail train in St. Paul in 2016. Minnesota lawmakers agree they want to address crime and fare evasion, but they have different ideas about how to do that.
Tim Nelson | MPR News 2016

Crime and fare evasion on Twin Cities light rail trains and buses are getting attention at the State Capitol, though there’s no consensus yet on what to do about it.

Republican and DFL-backed proposals in the Minnesota House will get hearings this week and next week, including a measure DFLers introduced at a news conference on Monday.

Rep. Brad Tabke, DFL-Shakopee, proposed to sharply reduce the penalties for the non-payment of fares, arguing it could make Metro Transit safer. Under his legislation, the fine would go from $185 and a misdemeanor to $35 and a petty misdemeanor.

“Today, less than 3 percent of the citations from nonpayment of fares are actually paid in the state of Minnesota,” Tabke said. “So, it’s a really important thing that we work on this and find a system that works better.”

The legislation would also establish a transit ambassador program. The ambassadors would be on board trains and buses to help prevent fare evasion and assist passengers that are in need of public services.

The chair of the House transportation committee, Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said the decriminalization of fare evasion has helped improve transit safety in other cities.

“We need to make sure that we have the strongest and best transit system that we can put together, and this will be a giant step in making that experience happen for transit riders and the region as a whole,” Hornstein said.

Cost estimates for the proposed ambassador program are expected by next week’s committee hearing.

Meanwhile, House Republicans have different ideas about how to address transit safety issues and criticized Tabke’s bill for not going far enough.

“Reducing the penalties for fare evasion alone won’t make our light rail system safer for Minnesotans who use the train every day to commute to work, attend concerts and sporting events, and travel to the airport,” said Rep. Jon Koznick, R-Lakeville.

A GOP bill getting a hearing before the Legislative Commission on Metropolitan Government on Wednesday would require an independent study of light rail safety issues. The study would look at the effects of both lighter and tougher fare evasion penalties, as well as increased police presence and surveillance on trains and platforms.

“Republicans will demonstrate to Minnesotans that we take this crisis seriously and will be putting forward proposals that bolster rider safety on trains and light rail platforms,” Koznick said.

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