More workers are voicing concerns about parking at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where many must take the light-rail train between terminals to get to their jobs — an arrangement some see as unsafe and unreliable.
"We all have horror stories on that trainday and night," said Rick Paulson, who sits on the executive committee of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 1833, representing some 300 workers at MSP. "This is a horrible way to start your day."
Paulson called on the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) at its meeting this week to again allow employees to park at Terminal 1 as it did during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, when there was plenty of room because of the marked decrease in air travel.
As passengers returned to the skies en masse this summer, the MAC decided to change its parking policy on Aug. 1, moving airport employees back to parking at Terminal 2 as they did before the pandemic.
MAC officials appear to have dismissed the request for employees to park in the Silver and Blue ramps at Terminal 1.
"Reserving space on one or two levels of Terminal 1 parking ramps would still increase the chances that customers could be diverted and would only accommodate a small share of employee parkers," MAC spokesman Jeff Lea said.
Workers who park at Terminal 2 must ride the Blue Line to and from the main terminal, often late at night or during early morning hours. Though crime statistics don't show a significant increase at the two terminal stations, many say they feel unsafe on the short ride.
"I have personally experienced erratic behavior, verbal harassment and physical threats while riding the transit," said Samantha Anderson, who works as a ramp agent in Terminal 1. "I have also been approached by strangers asking for drugs, money and propositioning me for sex. I shouldn't have to endure this or fear for my safety when I'm trying to get to and from work."
Lea said the airport "needs to make it easy for people to fly, park and have a great experience throughout their journey at MSP. The relocation of employee parking to pre-pandemic locations reduces the chances that travelers will unexpectedly get diverted to Terminal 2, thus raising the risk of customers missing their flights."
Paulson, who spoke during the public comment portion at Monday's MAC meeting, also noted that parking at Terminal 2 is unreliable for employees because of the Blue Line's erratic on-time performance.
Some employee groups have made alternative arrangements for parking that avoid light rail. Employees for Delta Air Lines, MSP's dominant carrier, park at a leased surface lot on 34th Avenue and ride a shuttle bus to Terminal 1 at the company's expense. Sun Country Airlines provides a Lyft ride to crew members who feel unsafe taking light rail.
And the MAC now provides Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) employees the option of parking at either terminal "depending on their work assignment," spokesperson Jessica Mayle said in an e-mail.
"The agreement was prompted by TSA's operational necessity to the airport," Mayle said, noting the arrangement is temporary and will be continually evaluated.
At Monday's meeting, MAC Chair Rick King said the airport "is pulling out all the stops to make the train as safe as possible. Safety is very important."
In recent years, Metro Transit has attempted to deal with crime and the perception of crime on its trains and buses. The agency has launched a multifaceted plan to lure passengers back to public transportation, bolstering the presence of police and community service officers on trains, shortening trains to enhance safety and hiring private security officers at high-traffic stations (excluding the airport).
Before the pandemic, 56 crimes were reported in 2019 at both airport terminals, about half of which were serious crimes such as theft, fraud and assault, according to Metro Transit.
Overall crime reports dipped at both terminals to 46 in 2020 and 42 in 2021, when the pandemic brought down ridership numbers. This year's incidents are on the rise; as of the end of July, 43 crimes had been reported at both terminals, roughly split between serious and less-serious crimes.
While Metro Transit has jurisdiction over light-rail operations and safety, Lea said the MAC shares employees' safety concerns with Metro Transit police, and airport police maintain an increased presence on train platforms during late and early-morning hours.