Metro Transit announced yesterday that they plan to close the indoor waiting area at the eastern part of Uptown Transit Station on March 16 until contracted security officers are in place.

On Tuesday afternoon, multiple Metro Transit police officers were actively keeping assumed loiterers out of the eastern waiting area and patrolling the bus shelters. Photo by Melody Hoffmann.

The closure, which starts on March 16, comes as the agency’s transit stations are beleaguered with drug use and crime. In late February, a transgender woman was brutally attacked at the Lake and Hiawatha light rail station. And last night, police were called to secure and lock the Uptown Station waiting area. A crowd gathered because someone was having an overdose.

Inside the eastern Uptown Transit Station on Hennepin Ave. just north of Lagoon Ave. The indoor waiting area was empty. Photo by Melody Hoffmann

On Tuesday afternoon, Southwest Voices observed Metro Transit officers asking a man to leave the Uptown Transit Station's eastern waiting area.

“Just walk away,” an officer told the man. The outside bus shelters were filled with people but no one was sitting inside. After the man left the indoor waiting area, the four Metro Transit police officers stood in one of the bus shelters.

The western waiting area was already locked with a padlock on one of the doors.

The western waiting area was locked on Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Melody Hoffmann

There is some evidence that security is helping limit police calls to transit stations. A pilot program with Bloomington-based BelCom security guards stationed at the Franklin Station in East Phillips resulted in a 20% decrease in police calls for service and Metro Transit received positive worker and rider feedback.

Today, the Metropolitan Council will consider a $6 million contract with Philadelphia-area security company Allied Universal to patrol the Metro Transit stations in the metro for up to two years.

Metro Transit Police Officer Jason Lindner said at the Transportation Committee meeting on Monday that unarmed security guards would patrol the station 224 hours per week, between 5 a.m. and 1 a.m.

Although the contract was unanimously moved forward at the Met Council’s Transportation Committee on Monday, some committee members expressed concerns about whether the workers would be unionized, their rate of pay, if they would compete with the agency’s ability to hire transit police, and how they would be trained to align with the organization’s values.

“I don’t want to be setting up forts,” said Met Council member John Pacheco, who represents Southwest Minneapolis, referring to staying away from the militarized patrol model and emphasizing a community-oriented approach, much like the Minneapolis Downtown Council’s ambassadors.

A glance at open positions Allied Universal has available in the Twin Cities show wages for entry-level positions start as low as $14 per hour and as high as $18 per hour. Some of its security guards are unionized elsewhere.

Lindner said Allied Universal has a special training curriculum for security guards who patrol transit infrastructure.

Nonetheless, Allied Universal officers have had a controversial presence in other states. In California, Allied Universal’s guards have killed people by kneeling on their necks in Sacramento and San Diego, similar to how Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd. It also contended with lawsuits for negligence as a mass shooting at a San Jose light rail facility and a fire at a pier in San Francisco were allowed to happen under their watch. In Denver, Colorado, a guard brutally beat an artist waiting for a train, which resulted in them suffering permanent brain damage. Another guard, also in Denver, shot at a vehicle of a person who tried to access banking services using a stolen ID. That guard was unlicensed and endangered the company’s ability to operate in the city.

In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, a security officer shot and killed a transit rider for not having transit fare after they threatened the guard. And close to Allied Universal’s home turf in Philadelphia, two guards assaulted transit riders on two separate occasions. One guard was later charged with aggravated assault.

Allied Universal did not respond to inquiries about its training, pay, whether their guards were unionized, and to these allegations at press time. Metro Transit also did not respond to these allegations at press time.

If the contract with Allied Universal is approved, Metro Transit does not have a timeline on when security guards could be deployed to the transit station. In the meantime, riders can wait in one of three transit shelters installed underneath the Uptown Station overhangs.

Not included in the Allied Universal contract is patrolling the I-35W and Lake Street Station, which reopened with indoor waiting areas in October 2021. Since its reopening, it has become a haven for drug use. However, the contract allows the agency flexibility to “add future sites and adjust staffing as needed,” said Lindner.

The Met Council's Committee of the Whole meets today to vote on the proposed contract with Allied Universal.

Additional reporting by Melody Hoffmann