Crime, Law and Justice

Community service officers will enforce fares on Metro Transit buses

The move expands a new enforcement approach that began in December

A city bus
An out-of-service Metro Transit bus drives down 35th Street in Minneapolis on Jan. 4.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Community service officers are riding Metro Transit buses to ramp up fare enforcement efforts. The move Monday is an expansion from the officers riding light rail trains. 

New efforts to enforce fares began last December. A 2023 law decriminalized fare evasion, reducing the penalty from a $180 fine for a misdemeanor to an initial $35 administrative citation enforced by community service officers and unarmed agents.

The uniformed college students enrolled in law enforcement programs are supposed to issue warnings or provide fine alternatives and refer people who qualify to Metro Transit’s reduced-fare program, among other measures. 

Metro Transit Police Chief Ernest Morales III said the department is currently down 68 sworn officers, but the shift is intended to alleviate the shortage, allowing police to focus on serious crime.

Metro Transit said there are currently 14 community service officers on staff, out of a  total of 70 CSOs budgeted, according to a December public safety report

“What we definitely want is more of a human presence, so people feel safe and comfortable returning back and utilizing our system,” he said. “The whole overall objective is to pull back all police officers, have them deal with crime, and let the community service officers and [other] agents deal with the fare enforcement project.”

Since December, community service officers and Transit Rider Investment Program (TRIP) agents have conducted more than 30,000 fare inspections and 1,200 administrative citations, Metro Transit officials said. Of those citations, 38 have been resolved, with Metro Transit collecting a total of $575 in fines.

TRIP agents joined fare patrols on the light rail at the end of February and will take over as the primary non-police force on those rides as community service officers shift to the bus lines. The agents were mandated in the new legislation. 

Wearing bright, blue uniforms, TRIP agents are unarmed. They carry Narcan and a radio dispatch to quickly reach police if necessary. Leah Palmer, the interim manager of TRIP, said the plan is to have nearly 50 agents on Metro Transit lines this summer. Currently, there are 12. 

Through a contract with Allied Universal, there should be 24 agents this spring, but Metro Transit has struggled to fill the whole force. A few agents have quit, Palmer said, but have since been replaced. 

“We’re having a meeting later this week to talk about some different recruitment strategies and how we can bring in this sort of unique personality,” Palmer said. “Because you’re not a security guard, you’re not a cop and you’re in this niche world of being an outreach worker, being an enforcement agent … so we’re finding it takes a special person.”

TRIP agents are also trained in de-escalation and help connect passengers to social services. Agents will often check on the wellbeing of passengers who are sleeping and pass out cards with resources, Palmer said. 

“We’re finding people that are using narcotics and how can we get them the services that they may need and sometimes they take them and sometimes they don’t,” Palmer said. “But we see the same people over and over again, with the hope that today will be the day, and if it’s not, we’ll see you tomorrow.”

Metro Transit officials said statistics on the number of people who have successfully been referred to Transit Assistance Program (TAP) and social services through community service officers and TRIP agents was not available.