MN: In Green Line's First Month, Police Deal With Left-Turn Accidents

July 18--During the first month of Green Line operations, 60 percent of Metro Transit police reports were about fare evaders.

Metro Transit says police were educating passengers and enforcing rules that trains and stations are paid fare zones. There weren't many reports of crimes on the trains or at the stations.

The rate of accidents, though, has been "higher than what we'd like to see," said Metro Transit Deputy Police Chief A.J. Olson on Thursday.

No injuries have been reported in the nine accidents -- three happened when the light-rail trains were being tested, and six others since the trains began carrying passengers June 14.

The agency has convened an internal work group "to address this issue," Olson said.

"We're hoping it levels out and the numbers go down, but we're taking a hard look at each."

Eight of the nine accidents happened when vehicle drivers made illegal turns, Metro Transit said. The other involved a pedestrian who was brushed by a train, causing his hat to be knocked off.

Around the Green Line, which connects the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis, St. Paul police haven't observed an uptick in crime, said Cmdr. John Bandemer, who works in the St. Paul Police Department's Western District.

"I think our biggest concern is pedestrians being aware of walking off the platforms into traffic," he said. "Sometimes the unfamiliarity of it all causes some confusion."

The minor accident between a train and pedestrian happened June 28, when a young man got off a train at the Hamline Avenue station and "instead of using the crosswalk, walked onto the track bed and passed under the fencing," said John Siqveland, Metro Transit spokesman. "He apparently didn't notice the approaching eastbound train that brushed him, knocking off his hat. He ducked back under the chain, walked down the platform and then repeated the same trespassing move, ducking under the chain fence there instead of using the sidewalk.

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The Metro Transit internal work group is looking at three areas -- engineering, education and enforcement, Olson said. In the engineering realm, Olson asked: "Is there something we can physically do to intersections -- signal timing, signs to be more prevalent to help better inform those drivers?"

The agency heard from some train operators that they had been giving quick blasts of their horns when they were approaching vehicles in left-turn lanes, Olson said. Because vehicles making left turns in front of trains have been a particular problem, Metro Transit has asked that all train drivers tap their horns, he said.

As part of Metro Transit's education and enforcement campaign for motorists and pedestrians along the Green Line, Metro Transit police have made 1,147 stops and issued 188 citations, mostly to motorists, since December, Siqveland said.

Metro Transit has given more than 130 safety presentations about the Green Line, and staffers will bring their public-education campaign to students at the University of Minnesota this fall, Olson said.

FARE EVASION AND WARRANTS

Metro Transit officers encountered 426 fare evaders on the Green Line from June 14 to July 14.

Transit police mostly gave people verbal warnings, Olson said, issuing 129 citations for fare evasion and making six arrests.

On the Blue Line during the same period, the largest percentage of Metro Transit police reports were also about fare evaders. They amounted to almost 40 percent of reports, compared with 60 percent on the Green Line.

The next largest category of police reports on the Green Line was about people with warrants, which resulted in 39 reports.

Some reports are about matters that could be crimes -- such as 10 reports about theft, 15 about trespassing and 27 about disorderly conduct -- but others are not. The total includes 12 reports about lost property and eight about found property, for instance.

Metro Transit officers filed 7.5 reports per 10,000 riders in the first month of Green Line operations, based on a preliminary report of 944,139 riders.

During the same period -- June 14 to July 14 -- Metro Transit officers took 6.3 reports per 10,000 riders on the Blue Line and 2.6 reports per 10,000 riders on the Route 16 bus. That bus has a similar route to the Green Line: It runs between the University of Minnesota and downtown St. Paul, along University Avenue.

Metro Transit police has 22 officers assigned to the Green Line. People riding trains in downtown St. Paul this week said they feel safe.

EDUCATION IMPORTANT

"I see police checking fares and watching for trouble," said Tacarra Durrah, of Minneapolis. She thinks fare enforcement is a good idea, adding, "It's not fair to everybody else that did pay, so they watch out for that."

Educating Green Line passengers on how to pay their fares is important because they may be new to public transit or accustomed to buses, where the fare is paid aboard the bus, Olson said. On the light-rail lines and commuter rail, passengers buy tickets at kiosks on platforms or tap their "Go To" cards at the station.

If police find someone has not paid their fare and it's a first offense, an officer may give the person a citation or issue a warning, Metro Transit officials have said. Habitual fare evaders are likely to receive a misdemeanor citation, which carries a $180 fine, and they can be banned from the transit system for a month.

Metro Transit police officers check fares tens of thousands of times each week on average, Siqveland said. The compliance rate is 99.1 percent on the Green Line, he said.

C.J. Sinner contributed to this report. Mara H. Gottfried can be reached at 651-228-5262. Follow her at twitter.com/MaraGottfried.

Copyright 2014 - Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

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