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Rider's Almanac Blog

From GM Lesley Kandaras Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Safety and Security Action Plan Transit Police

Listening, learning strengthens resolve to improve public safety on transit

Posted by nmuehlhausen | Thursday, January 18, 2024 3:11:00 PM

Thank you to everyone who turned out last week to share valuable feedback with leaders who spent time riding light rail and at stations.

Reflecting on her experience, General Manager Lesley Kandaras said she appreciated hearing how much riders value light rail and the push to identify work beyond what’s in process already.

“I am humbled and thankful to riders who shared their experiences, and in some instances, deeply personal stories with me,” she wrote.

The conversation continues. In addition to their regular use of transit, leaders will make themselves available soon during night and weekend hours.

You can share your thoughts anytime by emailing [email protected] or by calling 612-373-3333.

Read more reflections from Lesley, Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle, Met Council Transportation Chair Deb Barber, Metro Transit Police Chief Ernest Morales III, and COO Brian Funk below.

DURING MY FOUR DAYS on the METRO Blue and Green lines, many riders  shared with me how much they value light rail and  our region’s transit system more broadly. But they  want to see Metro Transit take stronger action to  address the problematic behaviors that make  riding feel unpleasant or unsafe.  The problems riders shared with me are simply,  unequivocally unacceptable. At Metro Transit, we  need to do more to improve transit and ensure  this incredible regional asset is delivering the  experience our customers expect and deserve. As  a frequent rider myself, I share the frustrations of  riders who want to ride light rail but are bothered  by what they witness. This feedback is pushing me  to review our existing Safety & Security Action  Plan and identify actions beyond the work we have  in progress already. I am humbled and thankful to riders who shared  their experiences, and in some instances, deeply  personal stories with me. For example, people I  met at Lake Street/Midtown Station shared with  me how when escalators and elevators are out of  service (often due to damage inflicted by others  rather than typical wear and tear), these riders  cannot access the station or the destinations they  want or need to reach.  I also had the privilege to speak with educators in  both St. Paul and Minneapolis who work with  students transitioning out of high school. They  told me that while they’d like to encourage their  students to use the train to get where they want to  go, they don’t feel comfortable encouraging  riding the train at this time.  I came away from these conversations with people  who experience transit from different perspectives reminded of how important it is that we continue to  make improving conditions on our system our top  priority. In the coming weeks and months, we will  take additional actions to increase presence on our  system and educate riders on the expectations we  have for all our riders to make the shared  experience of riding transit a more positive one. Thank you for your sharing your stories with me.  Please reach out to me anytime by emailing Sincerely, Lesley

METRO TRANSIT POLICE officers face the challenge of helping a historic  number of riders dealing with substance abuse  disorders, mental health crises, and finding  shelter. Every officer has taken this oath –  safeguarding our transit community with integrity  and professionalism. We will always police in an  empathetic and reasonable manner. They smell the smoke that you do. They see the  drug paraphernalia discarded under the seats.  They hear the same inappropriate language. And  they respond to the unacceptable violence we’ve  seen since the pandemic – when what was  socially acceptable, seems to have been  forgotten. What we need is to get more officers in more  places. And that will be a major focus in 2024.  It’s no secret that finding officers to join our ranks  is a challenge. Every law enforcement agency  across the nation is having to rethink how they  recruit. We’ve met that challenge, by creating a  new Community Service Officer Pathways  Program – that will help those complete the  college credits required to start their career in  law enforcement, for free. We already have  dozens of candidates who have applied. You’ll  also see a nationwide recruitment campaign in  the next few weeks.  We’re also launching 3 new social media  channels to increase our transparency so that you  can see what our officers face each day, along  with keeping you better informed about  incidents when they occur.  We are dedicated to restoring our transit  system’s reputation to be one of the best in the nation. Thank you for your support, Chief Morales

DESPIT E A LOT OF GREAT WORK by co-workers from across the agency, too often  conditions on our system are not acceptable right  now. In fact, on the fourth day of the tour, I  arrived at a station ahead of the group and spent  the time picking up garbage on the platform. Shortly after, for the second time in three days, I  spoke with a man named Olaf, who starts each  morning by picking up litter in an eight-block area  around Union Depot Station in St. Paul. He shared  his frustration about the amount of trash he  comes across each day – ranging from food  wrappers to soiled articles of clothing to drug  paraphernalia. Despite this seemingly never-ending  task, you’ll see Olaf back at it each morning because he deeply cares about his community. We share in his frustration. Our maintenance  crews are at each station, multiple times a day,  only to have their efforts ruined the moment they  leave. As staff, we don't create the mess that  impacts our customers and leads to the  perception that we don't care. We do care.  Deeply. At times, we’re at a complete loss –  trying to understand the root cause of this antisocial behavior and how to address it. What we  come back to is the loss of a shared sense of  community. We can rebuild that by following the  Code of Conduct and holding each other  accountable to it.  Another issue I heard from many riders was  service frequency on light rail. Right now, we’re  aiming to improve frequency by re-looking at  moving from 3-car trains to 2-car trains to not  overburden our already stretched maintenance  teams. We hope to move over to this new  schedule this summer and as we proved in the  2022 pilot, this solution will also help reduce the  poor behavior we’ve observed happening in  middle cars. Finally, I heard a message of encouragement. Our  customers appreciated the face time with us and I  received a lot of messages of support that  everyone has earned. Our customers know that  we're trying, many are as frustrated as we are, but  they understand the value we add to the region  and will be cheering when we succeed. Best, Brian

I WAS HA P P Y T O J O I N our transit riders and staff to experience our  system first-hand during the listening sessions. I  was able to hear from riders about their positive  and negative experiences. It was most gratifying  hearing how much they value the service, and  how it specifically made it possible to reach jobs,  education, services, and entertainment. Also, I  heard how the transit riding experience has been  diminished by the behavior of some elements on  the trains or at stations. There are more people  on trains visibly experiencing mental health  issues, using drugs, and smoking in the confines  of a transit vehicle than there are in most public  spaces. Our riders have the right to expect a  pleasant, safe trip, and people in crisis have the  right to the support and services they need. It was  helpful hearing ideas from our customers about  what they see as ways to improve service, such as  more frequency and more human presence to help  create a more welcoming experience. I’m committed to the change our riders and  communities would like to see. We are  committed to ensuring that every rider has a  pleasant experience when they take transit in our  region. We understand transit is a service and a  service we need to improve. We understand our  transit system is critical element of the  neighborhoods and communities it serves. Transit doesn’t run through neighborhoods, it’s  an integral element of our neighborhoods. Also, I’m committed to making sure our staff have  the resources needed to ensure every ride is one  that our transit customers take pride in. Metro  Transit staff were open about our challenges  during these sessions, and I appreciate their  openness and look forward to building a better  experience for all. It was wonderful seeing our  transit staff in action. They are the ones who are  experts and make all the extra efforts that are  needed. I learned the most from them. Thank you to all that made this a very real and  honest experience about our service. With this  knowledge, we can and will do better. Thank you, Charlie

S O M ET I M E S, PE O P L E J U S T N E E D a personal connection that says, ‘You matter.’  They need to hear from us and be heard on the  critical issues that affect their daily lives. As chair  of the transportation committee, I try to bring  those voices into the room when we make big  decisions about what is next in transit. This is why  I was so grateful to be out on our listening tour  this past week, to hear from riders firsthand about  what matters to them.  Some of the voices I heard that I’ll bring to my  committee include one rider from St. Paul who  uses a powered wheelchair and loves the  accessibility our system provides. They asked that  we do all that we can to extend that accessibility  to our bus system to allow those crucial  connections that make up a person’s daily life.  They have also seen the system's challenges and  asked us to stay committed to our mission to  provide great transit. For them, this included  updates to our stations, like the one planned for  Lake St. and Midtown to have ramp access.  I’ll also bring the stories I heard from Donald and  Muhammad from TOUCH Outreach, a team  working to help people daily as they navigate  some of the most challenging circumstances like  chronic homelessness, inconsistent shelter, a lack  of access to food, or substance use disorders.  They told me how important it can be to provide  a familiar face to folks in crisis and how we can  work to overcome some of these daunting  societal challenges with simple acts of kindness  like providing water and better shelter outside of  our transit system.  Most of all, I will bring with me the many riders  who expressed genuine hope and optimism for  the future. One person happily told us about how  grateful he was just to be able to make a quick  trip to the grocery store during cold weather.  Another talked about how they loved that the  light rail provides excellent access to their job as a  security guard at Minnesota’s sports stadiums. While  they acknowledged the system is experiencing  challenges like smoking or drug use, they are also  starting to see the effects of the work we’ve done to  bring on more security officers and law enforcement  to address these issues.  I want to express my gratitude to our riders and the  people who spoke with us. We heard you, and we  will work to make sure you are taken into account in  the decisions we make every day. Sincerely, Deb