A Defense of Metro Transit’s Superb Owl Transit Plan

A few weeks ago, we learned (many of us via Twitter, and more on that later) about Metro Transit’s plans for transit access the day of the “Big Game.” We learned (via the NFL’s web page and Metro Transit’s web page) that the plan was to restrict gameday transit traffic on all of the Blue Line and most of the Green Line to folks who had tickets to the game and regular transit users would be relegated to buses. The gameday transit users would pay a $30 fee for an all-day pass and would be remotely screened (at either the Mall of America or Stadium Village depending on which line is used) so that once they off-board, they presumably are able to enter the stadium without being subject to further security scans. We also subsequently learned that the station adjacent to the stadium will be closed two days prior to the event, due to an increased security perimeter, but my understanding is that for the day of the game, the station will be available.

The reaction to this news on social media was swift and predictable: this was an unconscionable plan by Metro Transit, one that would create two classes of transit systems on that day, one for the well-heeled who can afford to drop thousands of dollars to see a football game and another for the rest of us who rely on trains and buses to get to and from work.

My first reaction to the news was more cautious. That could be because I am a huge fan of Metro Transit, or it could be because I have several relatives in law enforcement and may have an enhanced appreciation for the enormity of the planning needed to ensure an event like this is kept secure. It did seem like this was unduly harsh on regular transit users and that it unnecessarily favored folks who would be attending the game and who would probably prefer rolling up to the game in a limo or maybe floating on their pile of money to arrive.

I also completely agree with any criticisms about how the plan was initially communicated. We shouldn’t be learning about a plan this significant by finding a link to a poorly-explained policy. Metro Transit should have led with the well-detailed communication they sent later in the day in (presumably in response to the social media uproar).

I also wanted to learn more about why Metro Transit had settled on this gameday transit plan. Were there other players dictating or attempting to dictate how transit would work? How long had they been planning this and what was the negotiation like?

To that end, I sat down with Jon Commers, District 14 Council Member on the Metropolitan Council. Jon shared the planning and other parties that were involved in the gameday transit plan. He said the other stakeholders included state and federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Minnesota State Patrol and Department of Public Safety, Minneapolis Public Works, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Bloomington police departments, Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, and the NFL.

The event itself, of course, is a top-tier security event, more so than any other event that has been held within the metro area within the last 30 or so years. Granted, we have recently hosted the Ryder Cup, which must have been a huge security undertaking, but that event took place over several days and didn’t have to manage any rail or bus traffic coming within a certain perimeter of a critical mass of people. And the last time we hosted the “big game,” we didn’t have train tracks running next to the stadium.

Jon referenced all the recent transition around the stadium of surface parking to better land uses, and noted that in most years this event is held at a stadium that is not so well connected to transit (and most NFL stadiums are ringed by significant surface parking). He noted that the bid for hosting this year’s event focused on our high level of transit accessibility.

Despite the bid touting the transit accessibility of our venue, the NFL’s first offer in terms of gameday transit use in an around the stadium was a 96-hour moratorium on transit use within a certain perimeter of the stadium. (Note: that we learned this later on the day this announcement was rolled out underscores how lacking the initial communication was.)

This is obviously very troubling, but understandable on some level. It seems clear that the NFL is not used to having to deal with the myriad security threats posed by having a well-used train running right next to a venue like this, and faced with that situation, I suppose the option that poses the least risk is to shut that train line down. But that would completely undermine the accessibility of the stadium in an event when it really should be an opportunity to showcase that accessibility.

Jon also answered my question about how Metro Transit was paying for the enhanced service on gameday. The cost of additional trains, etc., is covered by the $30 gameday passes as well as some advertising revenue, not taxpayers. And Metro Transit has now offered that non-gameday riders will be able to ride buses for free. I’m not sure if this offer was in response to the initial uproar, but it seems like a good way to re-assure regular riders that they’ve not been forgotten.

As for the security concerns, it strikes me as completely legitimate that any gameday train-rider should be screened. Aside from the larger question of whether all the security is appropriate to deter/prevent a bomb or some other terrible thing from happening, however minimal the probability, there’s no way to convince any of the powers-that-be that this low probability should result in relaxed security. It’s somewhat naïve to expect there to be minimal disruption for an event like this, especially in this day and age.

There’s nothing wrong with being upset at the disruption this event will cause for people who aren’t planning to be part of it. Since I work downtown, I will probably be working from home that week, and, other than maybe testing out the later bar close times, I don’t plan to participate in any of the related events.

But to my mind, placing blame for this disruption at the feet of Metro Transit, given the NFL’s initial plans related to transit, is misguided. I am also sensitive to the fact that people do need to work on that Sunday, and many don’t have a car and are reliant on transit to get to and from work. For those people, riding a bus that doesn’t come within the stadium’s security perimeter is a reasonable accommodation (to borrow A.D.A. lingo) to ensure that security concerns are met while still getting people to and from their jobs. The logical thing to me would be for anyone who is not attending and who has the option to not work that day or work remotely that day, to stay far away from this event.  It’s going to be an absolute circus.

Jon and I share one criticism of the plan, and that’s how it was communicated. He noted that the rollout was a result of a planned NFL event on a Monday morning, where the transit plan was an ancillary part of a larger announcement. The transit plan should have had a separate announcement, making clear why the disruptions are necessary, what the negotiation was with the NFL and other parties to at least maintain service throughout the event, and emphasizing that no taxpayer funds were being used to serve gameday fans.

39 thoughts on “A Defense of Metro Transit’s Superb Owl Transit Plan

    1. Andy E

      I disagree. I think Metro Transit could have reached a much better compromise with the NFL over access to Transit on game day.

      My proposal would have been the following:

      Normal Sunday LRT service is reduced to every 30 minutes, with a corresponding increase in bus service nearby. Along with this reduction in service comes the stationing of security guards on every LRT in the seats right by the conductor’s control cabin (and maybe someone inside the cabin with the conductor). The Stadium stop itself is closed to normal transit as well.

      Special “Super Trains” are run at pre-determined times from Target Field, MOA (and perhaps another Blue Line stop), Stadium Village (and perhaps another Green line stop in St Paul) with full security screening prior to boarding. In order to ride this train you need either a ticket to the game or a worker (volunteer) pass for those working the event. This would run direct to the stadium with no stops along the way.

      Such a dual use would have allowed for some degree of normal use for those who use the LRT for work while still accommodating security and those going to the game. And finally, Metro Transit should have demanded that every “volunteer” the NFL gets to work this event gets to ride at the expense of the NFL. They want to take advantage of free labor, make them pay a bit.

      At the end of the day, local government agencies have really screwed up. The NFL literally cannot move the event to another city at such a late date. They should have driven a hard ass bargain to make up for getting screwed by Zigi’s private (publicly paid for) palace. It’s not like the NFL will ever be back here (until the next taxpayer funded stadium is built, of course).

      1. David Marquette

        i agree with you, i wrote this down at the end, so yes would have made more sense to split GAME ONLY express trains (MAO-USBank, Stadium Village-USBank) from LOCALS ONLY trains what would run non stop thru the secure zone (express thru USBank-Gov’t Ctr) From DT hotels, express GAME ONLY could run in reverse, though shuttle buses on short distances (or walk in the skyways).

        NOW THAT RAISES ANOTHER TOPIC — are we to conclude that Skyways in EAST DT will be restricted/ closed off? suspect so. Talk amongst yourselves. well, share here peasel. .

        1. Jeff Christenson Post author

          The trains for locals would still need to have riders screened before boarding, though, since the train pierces the security perimeter. Doesn’t that seem like more of a hassle than getting on a bus that skirts the security perimeter?

          1. Ben Franske

            No they wouldn’t. That could have been negotiated. There are no ‘tablets from on high’ with rules about this sort of thing. The risk with a train which is not stopping at all is extraordinarily small. Other risks which are accepted are extraordinarily higher.

            1. Jeff Christenson Post author

              Do you honestly think Metro Transit could have dictated where the security perimeter would be set?

              1. Jeff Christenson Post author

                OK, I misread your comment. I think your point is that local riders wouldn’t need to be screened, that whether they’re screened is something MT could have negotiated about. While I agree there are no “tablets from on high” about this sort of thing, I’m relatively sure that there are best practices and well-defined standards for security protocols, that would make it rather difficult for MT to negotiate about.

                1. David

                  if the train is running non stop thru secured zone, are we (homeland Security etc) concerned that (i) i’ll have a gun and shoot thru the window or (ii) have a suicide bomb strapped to me? after all – on today’s Sandy hook massacre anniversary – wouldn’t be the time to go, in the USA, no concealed carry if i don’t enter the VIP zone. i could shoot from outside the zone!

                  1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                    I’ve been told that the train cannot run nonstop and has to stop at each station. I can’t say with certainty that’s accurate.

                    I don’t know what risks DHS is worried about.

      2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        Buses running the normal schedule sounds better than much less frequent trains to me. No one is going to wait around for a half-hour frequency train when there are every ten minute buses.

        And you’re still running trains of unscreened passenger through the security perimeter, which was apparently unacceptable to homeland security.

    1. David Marquette

      “owl service” in most cities are the overnight hours, when say trains shut down and you use a very basic bus system.

  1. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

    We likely have George W Bush to thank/blame for this. While security certainly is reasonable, the increased security is a direct result of the Department of Homeland Security. If you look at security demands before and after 9/11, the addition of a Department of Homeland Security has increased security demands each year for cities hosting Super Bowls. It’s unclear how much at risk we actually are to justify this level of security. But, fear definitely keeps DHS relevant.

    What I am really interested in knowing, if the drivers strike, are replacement drivers going to be hired? I am assuming that based on their commitment to the NFL, replacement drivers would be hired for the trains, but would guess the rest of us would be out of luck.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      For events like this, the potential magnitude of the harm probably outweighs its implicitly low probability.

      At the airport, for example, not so much. We’re inconveniencing all travelers for very small risks.

      1. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

        I think the level of security at this event will inconvenience enough Minneapolis residents as well as transit users and drivers without actual justification. Pre 9/11 there was still a level of security.

        Again, a certain level of security is justified. But, each Super Bowl, the list of possible threats and security demands grow. Last year, DHS and ICE started working together over DHS’ assessment that Super Bowls increase the amount of human trafficking. Sounds like ICE is going to be working on this one, too. This might be the first time public transit is privatized for security reasons. I don’t know all security details, but Minneapolis is asking the National Guard for assistance in meeting the demands. Seems a bit like overkill for, as we agree, potentially low risks that probably could be diverted with slightly less resources. And probably in a way that didn’t completely close off a public train for an entire city. Charter buses for ticket holders and stop train service from US Bank station and west of that, for example, might have achieved similar security, while allowing West Bank, Lake Street, and beyond Blue Line riders access to the train.

    2. Scott

      I couldn’t agree more. Security theater, and an excuse to buy a bunch of deadly or at least debilitating toys that will come out later to be used on the enemy (aka the general population).

    3. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      “We likely have George W Bush to thank/blame for this.”

      And I suppose Eric Garcetti (Mayor of La La Land) is responsible for assaults on women, not Weinstein, et al? And Carolyn Goodman (Mayor of Las Vegas) is responsible for the 58 people killed at the Route 91 Music Festival or the extra security Vegas has instituted since?

      I’m no fan of DHS (and TSA in particular). But as we saw in Vegas and Oklahoma City and Fort Hood and the Boston Marathon and San Bernardino and the Orlando Nightclub… and the 8 people killed on a bikeway in NYC just a few weeks ago… Terrorism is a very real threat. Do we ignore it? What do you propose that we do instead?

      We lucked out this past weekend that the terrorist was more bumbling than DHS but had he been less bumbling it could easily have been one of the worst terrorist incidents in US history. BTW, my son and daughter-in-law go through the Port Authority Terminal frequently so I have a quite personal stake in that one.

      At this point if there is blame for DHS’ bumbling it should go to Obama who had 8 years to fix the problems. Given his rhetoric, Trump should have straightened things out but doesn’t seem to have dome much.

      What do you propose we do instead?

      1. Monte Castleman

        Well, Trump came up with a proposal to pause immigration from certain high risk countries (as identified by Obama) until we could figure out how to exclude any terrorists. Look at how well that went over. I doubt Israeli style airport security, where they interrogate people rather than making 8 year olds take off their shoes in the Richard Reid Memorial Shoe Removal Queue would go over too well either.

        What security measure do you propose that are both politically correct and effective? I can’t think of any either. I realize this is what they pay people above our pay grade to do, but maybe there really aren’t any good answers. You can ban bump stocks, but anyone can still make a pipe bomb or drive a truck onto a bicycle path.

      2. mplsjaromir

        The Route 91 Music Festival was not in the city of Las Vegas, it happened in unincorporated Clark County. Harvey Weinstein assaulted women all over the world. George Bush very much is responsible for the abomination that is the DHS.

        Every position in the DHS is just sinecure for the dumbest child of a DC insider. No value whatsoever to that agency, pure grift.

        As a solution we should as a nation no longer engage in overseas military and political provocations.

      1. Will StancilWill Stancil

        Haha that wasn’t really directed at you, but at the great mass of advertisers and copywriters who for some reason are convinced that calling an event by its god-given name would result in a lawsuit.

  2. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

    You make a good point. W merely started the department. It has since received bipartisan support to remain. In my subsequent comment, I did propose at least one alternative that would allow Blue Line access for people at stations like Lake And south while also allowing secure surroundings around US Bank stadium.

    Regardless of what the NFL wants to do for safety, I think Super Bowl (and other sporting events) could maintain security without having to justify work for the Department of Homeland Security.

  3. David Marquette

    wouldn’t it perhaps have been more rational to have GAME ONLY trains from MAO run non stop to Stadium, and Stadium Village to US Bank stadium, then have the periodic LOCALS ONLY trains run non-stop thru the US Bank and adjacent stations in the game zone? regular transit users could get into DT Mpls past and thru the secured zone, to say at least drop at Warehouse or Target Field and vice versa.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      For what it’s worth, I believe (as in someone said this, I have no personal knowledge) that the trains actually have to stop at each station and can’t be operated to just pass through.

      1. David

        nope. these trains have a driver. The game day MOA-USBStadium trinas are running non stop, no interim stops, or boardings. Yes, it iwll greatly increase the capacity to move people to the game. Plus mall has garage parking, and will be airport-style TSA-ready security at the station.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          They have drivers but that doesn’t mean the switching and signalling systems are timed right if they don’t stop. But I don’t know.

          I had heard (again, don’t personally know) that the stadium trains were going to have to stop at each station, although there will be no boarding or deboardings (if that’s a word). Maybe that’s wrong?

  4. Karen Nelson

    The root of this problem Metro Transit got themselves into wasn’t bad communication, it was a lack of understanding and lack of feel for their constituents opinions and values.

    To me the reaction to this plan regardless of how it was explained was easily predictable and that they didn’t expect this would cause backlash shows that Metro Transit folks at these meetings with NFL and those making the announcement were out of touch with public sentiment.

    LRT might just be a “nice option” for some people but for many in our towns, it has become a life blood that they have built their lives around, rented apartments by, built businesses by, got jobs by, rented office space by etc.

    I don’t if there was any better options but Metro Transit should have been quite aware that those they serve and represent would see this plan as a smack in the face, even if there was no option, which I doubt.

    Just floating some of the scenarios they were discussing with the NFL and police, would have shown a level of repsect and concern for the public and also allowed the public to do it’s rabble rousing to get heard at the table better. Instead they thought the meeting of professionals duking it out was and proclaiming their compromise was enough. It’s a missed opportunity, every time you open one of these types of discussions up to hte public as part of the process, often some at least slightly improved solutions well up, even if it brings drama.

    Either you think public is worthy of being invovled in the process or not. If you are Metro Transit, you should never ever err on the too-little-public consultation side.

  5. David Marquette

    last comment: (sorry). the most recent cold winter Super Bowl was Meadlands in suburban N Jersey in 2014. Stadium, in a field of parking lots, is served by a spur train line, the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meadowlands_Rail_Line. The only people permitted to board the dead end train from Secaucus Jtc (the closest busy multi-station nearby) were those w/ game tickets (as frankly the suburban station had nothing else around it).

  6. Karen Nelson

    I still stand by my favorite internet comment on this topic “Metro Transit forgot the “public” part of public transit”.

    Better have a pulse of the public and be at least seen as working and fighting for them.

  7. jamie

    “The event itself, of course, is a top-tier security event, more so than any other event that has been held within the metro area within the last 30 or so years.”

    I’m sure the 800+ people arrested (mostly on bogus trumped up charges, or no charges at all) at the 2008 republican convention (a national special security event) – thanks to the same sorts of “security planners” who are no doubt planning for this clusterf*** – would have something to say about that assertion.

  8. Mplsjaromir

    Cool how “streets.mn” loves the most reactionary views. This web sight doesn’t deserve any donations from anyone whose income is less than $450,000 a year.

    1. Dana DeMasterDana DeMaster

      streets.mn welcomes writers with many viewpoints, including this author’s view the Metro Transit’s approach to the Super Bowl is appropriate.

      Would you like to add something substantive to the discussion? What do you find reactionary about the author’s views? What is a better alternative? How do we balance security needs (real or perceived) with the transportation needs of those not attending the event?

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