MetroLink riders reacted with mixed feelings Monday to newly implemented security measures at the Fairview Heights light-rail station, with some saying the measures don’t go far enough, and others saying the system is already safe.
For about a month, security officers will check fares and monitor fare validation at MetroLink three stations during operating hours with the help of local law enforcement, according to transit advocacy group Citizens for Modern Transit.
The system normally operates with an open platform, but fencing, signs and temporary barriers will direct riders to specific entry and exit points so security guards and police officers can check tickets. The measures went into effect Monday at the Fairview Heights station and at two others — North Hanley and Forest Park-DeBaliviere in Missouri.
The fare enforcement and barrier project cost roughly $50,000 to put into place. Metro leaders hope the project will produce “metrics” on fare enforcement and possible solutions for the entire system. The effort is one of several undertakings aimed at improving safety on MetroLink.
Security is a concern for Sandy Davis of Belleville. Davis was at the Fairview Heights stop heading to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, where she works an evening shift that puts her on the train toward home around midnight.
Davis says the new barriers aren’t enough, and she wishes more armed police officers, not only private security guards, patrolled MetroLink.
“This is my only way to work,” Davis said. “We need police officers. We shouldn’t have to feel scared or afraid.”
Davis said she has never been the victim of a crime on MetroLink, though she said she frequently smells marijuana and sometimes sees fights on the train.
Kelley Dickenson of Florissant, Missouri, said she doesn’t think police can patrol MetroLink around the clock, but said the barriers and increased fare enforcement are a step.
“It helps,” Dickenson said, adding that other crimes such as drug offenses, make MetroLink more dangerous.
“It’s unfair because it’s a good system,” Dickenson said.
Damion Pirtle of East St. Louis said he thinks MetroLink is already safe.
“I like taking the train,” Pirtle said. “It’s environmentally friendly. It’s convenient.”
Pirtle said he thinks the project could help improve what people think of MetroLink, but said he believes the train is not as dangerous as people think.
“I think that is a matter of perception,” Pirtle said. “I’ve never seen anything out of the ordinary on the train.”
A spokesman for Bi-State Development, the agency that operates the light-rail system, said it was too soon to tell how the project was going on its first day. The agency should have more information later in the week, the spokesman said.
Jessica Mefford-Miller, interim Executive Director of Metro Transit, said in a previous statement the study will help Metro leaders understand how station design affects safety.
“Safety and security on the Metro Transit system requires a well-defined and coordinated approach, including personnel presence, partnership with regional law enforcement, technology, and station design,” Mefford-Miller said.
In a recent investigation, the Belleville News-Democrat found violent crime was relatively rare compared to ridership. For every 100,000 boardings in 2016, there was less than one violent crime such as homicide or robbery, the BND found. That number increased slightly to 1.4 violent crimes per 100,000 boardings in 2017.
The BND’s investigation followed a wave of violent crime on MetroLink that negatively impacted public perception of the light rail system.
Bi-State Development said recently that ridership declined by nearly 2 million riders from 2015-17.
Citizens for Modern Transit, East-West Gateway Council of Governments, St. Clair County Transit District, the Organization for Black Struggle and local law enforcement helped organize the fare enforcement and barrier project.
Bi-State Development, Citizens for Modern Transit, St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Clair County are paying for the project.