MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Twin Cities light-rail transit officials today defended themselves at the State Capitol against what some lawmakers say is an “epidemic” of fare jumpers.

A recent Met Council audit showed one out of every 10 light-rail passengers may not be paying the fare.

Minnesota’s light-rail operates on the honor system.

But the audit — which the Met Council requested — found it is losing $1.5 million dollars a year from the 10 percent of passengers who don’t pay fares.

“The message that is predominant right now is that in Minnesota, you can cheat the train,” Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said.

Minnesota House Majority Republicans are preparing a massive transportation bill, and they want Metro Transit to do something about fare jumpers, up to and including installing turnstiles.

“I think we all understand that we would like to have an honor system,” said Rep. Mark Uglem, R-Champlin, “We’d like to think that all Minnesotans will pay when they hop on the train or whatever. But, the fact is, they’re not.”

Metro Transit Police report they are regularly checking for illegal riders on the new Green Line.

In 2014, police

  • checked tickets of 1,347,000 passengers,
  • escorted 6,346 non-ticketed passengers off the trains
  • and ticketed 1,592.

“We’re seeing the numbers equalize on Blue Line and Green Line, and we’re seeing the number of fare checks go up steadily,” said Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington.

Metro Transit reports 94 percent compliance on the new Green Line and 97 percent compliance on the Blue Line from downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America.

Transit officials say installing turnstiles could cost $107 million.

Lawmakers are pressing for more cops and education.

“Short of more personnel, I think it’s going to be a challenge,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, the ranking democrat on the House Transportation Committee. “Nonetheless, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.”

Metro Transit officials say cities similar in size to Minneapolis and St Paul also have honor systems on their light-rail.

They include Phoenix, Denver, Seattle, Dallas, Portland, Houston, San Diego, Buffalo and Charlotte.

Pat Kessler

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