Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
Light-rail transit is at a tipping point in the Twin Cities. Ridership is barely half what it was before the pandemic. Crime on the system rose even after the worst of the pandemic ended, with drug deals, drug use and assault becoming too frequent, along with lesser offenses that have contributed to a sense of jeopardy and disorder.
A special report from the Star Tribune Editorial Board about making riders feel safe on light rail.
Declared the top rail system in the country by the American Public Transportation Association in 2016, Metro Transit's light-rail lines have become among the nation's more problematic. With billions of taxpayer dollars invested in what could once again be a model transit system — and the increasingly expensive Southwest line still being developed — a reset is needed.
Over the past several months, the Star Tribune Editorial Board's Patricia Lopez, with assistance from intern Noor Adwan, reported on conditions in the Twin Cities, talking with public officials, transit experts and current riders. Lopez also looked to other states for possible solutions. Her research led to St. Louis, Mo., where leaders have made rider safety their top priority and one that guides every critical change they've made in recent years, including a bold decision to convert from the open-entry system like that the Twin Cities now uses to a closed one that requires a paid fare to access platforms and trains.
In Minnesota, transit advocates too often choose to ignore or downplay the deterioration of LRT in Minneapolis and St. Paul, while entrenched transit critics offer few remedies. And, yes, political division clouds the debate. The goal of this special report, which Lopez wrote on behalf of the Editorial Board, is to prompt a fact-based, constructive discussion about conditions on Metro Transit's Blue and Green lines and what can be done to regain the public's trust and bring riders back to the trains.
Our coverage includes:
• The safety-first effort in St. Louis: 'We had a problem to solve': The light-rail system in that metro area had many of the same problems the one in the Twin Cities does now. Several changes were made, with the final phase — a switch to gated platforms — underway.
• Light rail in the Twin Cities: We have a problem to solve: "We've shown we can do this and that people can ride in safety," says Metro Transit's police chief. But first, riders need to be persuaded to return.
• Eight recommendations for Twin Cities light rail: Based on what it learned from the example being set in St. Louis, the Star Tribune Editorial Board offers solutions it hopes will drive public-policy decisions and an eventual rebound for Metro Transit's light-rail system.
About this project
Patricia Lopez is a veteran editorial writer with extensive news and opinion experience covering public policy in Minnesota. She was assisted in her reporting by Noor Adwan, an intern who graduated from the University of Minnesota in May. Assistant Commentary Editor David Banks and Copy Editor Elena Neuzil provided design and editing work on the project, which was supervised by Editorial Page Editor Scott Gillespie.
The Editorial Board hopes "Systemic insecurity: Saving Twin Cities light rail" will kick off a constructive discussion of what can be done to rebuild public trust in the Twin Cities light-rail system. Now we'd like to hear your thoughts. As always, the best way to contribute is by submitting a letter or commentary here.