No free rides on the light rail, mostly


While Metro Transit Police boast an almost perfect record of fare compliance, some riders are skeptical.

Most passengers pay before boarding the light rail, and even with no barrier or turnstiles to enforce fare compliance, law enforcement has seen very few passengers choosing to walk on without paying.

The Hiawatha Light Rail Line , has averaged nearly 30,000 customers a week since it opened to passengers in 2004.

Last year, Metro Transit Police rode the trains for 23,000 hours checking tickets of riders. Out of 888,500 riders Transit Police checked, 1,897 citations and 2,738 warnings were issued, bringing fare compliance to 99.5 percent.

“Our target is to try to inspect 10 percent of the riders,” Deputy Chief of Transit Police A.J. Olson said.

But riders tell a different story.

Siddharth Dani , a recently graduated neuroscience student at the University of Minnesota, takes the light rail at least twice every day. On average, Dani estimates authorities check his ticket once or twice a week.

“It’s really simple to get on the light rail without paying,” Dani said. Despite police numbers, he estimated that around 30 percent of riders don’t pay their fare.

“That’s what you expect on a system like this,” Dani said.

Olson, who admits it’s fairly easy to skip out on paying a fare, said there are 12 full-time officers checking fares and patrolling the trains on a regular basis.

Extra officers are assigned to the light rail’s Metrodome stop during events that draw thousands of people. All fares are checked at games, Olson said.

Dani, who occasionally has to experience the cluster of Metrodome spectators, said Transit Police often have a hard time checking fares of an entire train.

“Some people are already off the train before they get checked,” Dani said.

He admits to having not paid to ride the light rail before but it was because the train was about to leave the station.

Dani was not the only one who was surprised to hear about the near-perfect rider compliance rate Metro Transit reports. Waiting for the train at its Franklin Avenue stop, Chris Day, 15, and Marcus Johnson, 16, said they know of friends who sometimes ride the light rail without paying.

Bob Gibbons, director of customer services at Metro Transit , said new light rail platforms, like the one opening outside Target Field in November, will be barrier free.

Gibbons said the extra infrastructure costs associated with setting up fences and gates are one of the main reasons no barriers were constructed for the Hiawatha Light Rail line.

Olson believes that the beefed up security for special events, combined with a full-time police presence and a $180 fine if caught, is enough to deter most from riding without a ticket.