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Tuesday March 31st 2020

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Transit – Politicians and Light Rail Safety

By JOHN CHARLES WILSON

The Minnesota State Legislature is finally trying to do something about the rising tide of crime and harmful behavior on public transit, particularly on the Light Rail system. While many members of the community are saying, “It’s about time!” it looks like what should be a universal issue is rapidly becoming partisan.

Republicans from rural Minnesota and the outer Twin Cities suburbs have one vision of how to make urban transit safer, while Democratic politicians including the mayors of Minneapolis and Saint Paul have different ideas on how to achieve the same thing. Unfortunately, given Minnesota’s history of gridlock at the Capitol, this may well mean nothing will get done, as it happens: another robbery, another stabbing, smoking on trains, loud and boisterous disturbances, etc.

I have a friend who was robbed in broad daylight as he got off a Green Line train in Saint Paul a few months ago, so this is personal to me. He called the police, and they said they would look at the video surveillance tapes to try to find the culprit. Unfortunately, as far as we know, they didn’t find him, so he’s going to get away with preying on a vulnerable old man. This kind of thing is making people not want to ride the trains anymore, which is a bad thing as this state has spent millions of dollars on Light Rail and plans to expand the system to places like Eden Prairie, which won’t put up with this stuff.

While there has also been a seeming increase in violence on buses, mostly directed at the drivers over fare and rule disputes, the situation on Light Rail is much worse, and directed at innocent passengers. The main problem with Light Rail is the lack of supervision. At least on a bus the driver is present and can see and hear what is going on, intervening and reporting things as need be. However, on a Light Rail train, the operator sits in a sealed cabin in the first car and has almost no interaction with the riders. The obvious answer is more supervision. On that, the parties seem to agree. Where they disagree is on how to handle the homeless and people who cheat the fare. Please, oh mighty members of the Legislature, please don’t let your philosophical differences derail needed changes!

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