Breezing past the ticket machine at the Big Lake transit station I step onto the Northstar link, headed for Minneapolis and points beyond. I carry no ticket, no metro pass. I wait to see if I will be thrown off the train or given the $180 fine for having no ticket. Soon I will see whether boarding the light rail and the bus are as hassle-free as hopping on the Link.
I have broken no laws. I have done nothing wrong. I’m confident all will be well. I am armed with my VA identification card on which the words “Service Connected” are emblazoned.
As of July 1, 2009 this card is all I need to ensure free passage on any public transit line in Minnesota. According to the Communications Director for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, Anna Long, Metro Transit eventually managed to get the word out when the law first came into effect.
“There were a few complaints about drivers being unaware of the benefit,” said Long. “However, transit was very supportive from the start and worked closely with their drivers to make sure everyone understood this benefit.”
It has been nine months since passage of the law. My goal today was to check on how the system was doing. Would all the bus, and train operators I ran into be aware of the law and act accordingly? Would they hassle me about the card or simply know what the law is and go about their duties?
My trip would take me from Big Lake to the Minneapolis VA; from there I would stop in Seward on my way to Frogtown. My trip would be complete upon arrival back in Big Lake. This path would ensure I would use the commuter rail, the LRT and the bus systems.
Since I once was a Non-Commissioned Officer in the Army, where accountability is half the job, I was shocked at the seeming lack of accountability upon boarding the Link.
There are no gate systems in place or personnel on the platforms to ensure that passengers purchase a ticket. I’d read on the website about the $180 fine for not having a ticket, but still was curious how out-of-towners would be dealt with if they misunderstood the system.
But no matter to me, I ride the Link down to Minneapolis. Somewhere around Fridley, a Transit Police Officer asks for my ticket, I produce my VA ID, he nods and moves on. Too easy.
At Target Field I hop on the LRT on my way to the VA. Again no gate, no personnel to ensure ticket purchase. I think to myself: “Metro transit is relying on the honor system? Crazy…” I ride the LRT eight more times within the next day or two. Never once am I asked for a ticket.
Hopping on the bus at least gives me the peace of mind that accountability does happen somewhere. I show my VA ID to each driver, each waves me on. I ask one driver how she tracks those who ride for free using their VA card. She points to a button on the ticket console to her right.
Upon corresponding with Metro Transit Officials I find out that the button pushing isn’t tracked all the time. It seems a bit odd to me, but as long as the drivers are doing their job, it is just data that there is likely little point in tracking.
My only question that seems to be unanswerable, either by the U.S. VA, Minnesota VA, or Metro Transit, is actually how many vets are currently using this benefit.