You buy a ticket, you get on the bus. That’s how Metro Transit works for most riders.
Sometimes, though, passengers are not happy with the fare they’re about to be charged. And that can lead to dangerous situations for Metro Transit’s 1,084 full-time and 305 part-time bus drivers.
In late May over a fare dispute. Unfortunately, such disputes are not unheard of.
“Most conflicts occur over the fare,” said Metro Transit spokesman John Siqveland. While most fare disputes remain civil, Siqveland said that attacks on drivers “do occur, but are infrequent.”
In 2011, there were 9 felony-level assaults on bus operators. Metro Transit Police were successful in identifying and securing felony charges on suspects in 7 of those cases.
The eye-poking incident began with a fare dispute, during which a passenger became unruly, verbally abusive—using profanity—and was asked to leave the bus. The passenger allegedly poked the operator in the eye while exiting the bus.
Metro Transit Police investigated the case and it has been referred to the Minneapolis City Attorney’s office for a review of changes of disorderly conduct or fifth-degree assault.
Cognizant of the dangers that face its drivers, Metro Transit teaches its drivers how to be on the lookout for and respond when a confrontation occurs, Siqveland said. It also provides protection in the form of police patrols, surveillance camera and other active measures.
Metro Transit drivers are trained in how to identify suspicious persons and situations. As part of their ongoing training, bus operators will begin to receive training during the next few months in de-escalation procedures to use in the event of a confrontation.
Additionally, each bus contains multiple high resolution digital cameras, whose footage can be used to identify and prosecute suspects—as well radios so that can call for help.
Metro Transit also has its own licensed police force, which operates in eight counties and 85 cities in the greater Twin Cities area. Its staff consists of 69 full-time officers, 55 part-time officers, four community service officers and five administrative staff members.
Transit Police officers ride buses and trains as well as patrol along bus routesand at bus stops such as the ones at Lake Street Station and in downtown Minneapolis at the 7th and Nicollet stop.
From January to April 2012, uniformed and plainclothes officers rode buses 11,176 times.
Metro Transit has mutual aid agreements with area police departments so the nearest available officer from any force will respond to an emergency call.
Metro Transit also contracts with MAD DAD of Minneapolis, a community group that works to improve neighborhoods. Member of MAD DAD rides bussed in groups of four “in order to foster a positive working environment” Siqveland said. The group members wear bright green tee-shirts and encourage passengers to be civil.
MAD DADS spent 985 hours aboard buses between January and April 2012.