The gentleman from Scott County takes public transit to the Capitol
We did a morning commute with Rep. Brad Tabke, who’s lately received an education in transit safety
Rep. Brad Tabke, DFL-Shakopee, riding a Minnesota Valley Transit Authority Route 493 bus on Highway 169, as the sun rises. Tabke has been spending hours on transit to get to the Capitol from the south metro since he wrecked his truck in January. Photo by H. Jiahong Pan/Minnesota Reformer.
For the first two months of the legislative session, Shakopee DFL Rep. Brad Tabke spent a lot of time on transit.
On the day he was inaugurated, his truck was badly damaged in a three-vehicle wreck. So, he used transit to get to and from the state Capitol four days a week.
Tabke’s daily journey from Shakopee to the Capitol shows that life without a car in the Twin Cities is slow going. He’s endured a bus commute more than twice as long as driving, about two hours one way during rush hour compared to 45 minutes driving. And because his schedule as a legislator is often unpredictable, sometimes he finds himself at the Capitol as late as midnight. By that time, he’s missed the last bus to Shakopee, which leaves the Mall of America at 10:45pm.
“When I get my truck back, I will definitely not be taking transit as often,” Tabke says as we ride the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority Route 493 bus, passing Edina on Highway 169 one recent Tuesday morning, the sun rising on his face. “It just doesn’t work. If I had a more scheduled job, it would work.”
On the upside, all the time on transit has given Tabke a first-hand look into safety and quality issues affecting our region’s beleaguered light rail system. Tabke introduced a bill to flood the system with social workers, which received hearings earlier this month.
To understand his commute, I joined him one freezing but sunny Tuesday morning.
6:50 a.m., Marschall Road Transit Station, Shakopee
After Tabke gets dropped off by his wife, we shake hands and climb aboard the 493 to downtown Minneapolis following a swarm of commuters. We sit near the front, where Tabke recognizes one person sitting across from him.
He tells me the day prior, he had a three-hour ordeal getting to the Capitol. He hailed a Route 497 bus — an infrequent circulator that runs through downtown and west Shakopee — that proceeded to get stuck at a railroad crossing. The delay led him to miss the last Route 493 express bus to Minneapolis that morning, as well as a 495 to the Mall of America where he could get a different bus to St. Paul.
So he opted to take the 498, an express bus route that resumed service in December and that was extended from its pre-pandemic terminus at Minnetonka’s Opus campus to Southdale, transferring to the 6 and the Green Line for the rest of his trip.
Back on the bus, everyone is quiet. Many look at their phones. Later I learn everyone is bound for Minneapolis. Only Tabke, myself and one other person make a transfer to board the Green Line to St. Paul.
On the uneventful bus ride, I get his thoughts on regional transit and his safety bill. Safety is top of mind for many people who use transit, especially since the pandemic began. Crimes on transit involving assault, fraud, gambling, theft, and sex and weapons offenses more than doubled, from about 100 in September 2020 to about 200 in December 2022. And, the agency says narcotics violations increased 182% in 2022 from 2021.
On February 28, a trans woman was brutally assaulted at Lake Street/Midtown Station, in spite of the agency hiring security officers to patrol the station and another nearby in September. The Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Committee will consider an item Monday to hire a security firm to patrol six of the agency’s transit stations, including Lake Street/Midtown.
Tabke’s responses were edited for clarity.
On his two-pronged approach to making light rail safe again:
“The first phase involves pushing a reset button on how we handle the Blue and Green Lines and what is expected of transit riders. We will have a three-month period of enhanced presence in conjunction with the Department of Human Services and (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and others to ensure people on the Blue and Green Line trains are getting the services they need. It will be a combination of enforcement and social services, to create a presence and make sure that people know that we’re paying attention, that it’s not okay to use drugs and to be belligerent on the trains. Transit should be an asset that’s comfortable and safe for everyone to ride.
The second phase is what we call the transit ambassadors bill. It involves having someone who can check fares and can also help people when they are using transit for the first time and they’re lost or looking like they need some help. And if someone is experiencing homelessness or someone’s having addiction issues, the ambassadors can connect them to services so that they know how and where to get help.”*
(*Disclosure: I testified in support of a similar bill in February 2020. )
On improving suburban transit:
“When the Southwest LRT gets done, that would absolutely make it possible and cost-effective to run frequent, reliable service into the late evening. But right now service has been cut and not brought back all the way, not just for me getting to and from Minneapolis, but I hear from a ton of college students and folks that live at home and still need to get to classes, and the services just aren’t available.
The last express bus to Shakopee leaves Minneapolis at 5:30 p.m. That just doesn’t work for a lot of folks, especially if you have irregular schedules. So we need to really look hard at bringing back more service to be available not just during rush hour because we know that people aren’t working ‘nine-to-five’ type jobs anymore, people can go at different times and be at work at different times, and we need to reflect that.”
On free fares:
“I think that transit should absolutely be free for people who need it to be free. But I don’t think it should be free to everybody. It should be affordable, because we are absolutely subsidizing roads and bridges. The more people we get on transit, the better off our roads and bridges will be.”
7:32 am, 2nd Ave South at 6th St South, Downtown Minneapolis
Just as our bus pulls up to the U.S. Bank building on 2nd Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis, Tabke wishes the passenger he recognized best of luck for the coming week.
“We have to hoof it, just so you know,” Tabke tells me as we disembark. It is a tight transfer to the Green Line. We bolt down 2nd Avenue towards 5th Street. Once we get there, Tabke looks to the left, towards Nicollet, and does not see a Green Line train there. “Yeah, we missed it,” Tabke says.
For the next 15 minutes, we wait at the center of Government Plaza Station as we debate which car to board. “I usually wait in the middle because that way I can see where people are smoking and avoid that car,” Tabke says.
7:50 a.m., Government Plaza Station, Downtown Minneapolis
We finally see a Green Line train at Nicollet Mall station. But for about five minutes the train doesn’t move.
Eventually the train makes its way to Government Plaza Station. As soon as the doors of the second car open, we hear someone blasting a song to our right. I look to my left and see someone blow out a puff of smoke. “So we’re gonna be on here and then we’re gonna switch cars,” says Tabke, adding he’s endured smokers every morning on his commute in January and early February. “But then lately,” he says, “it’s been better.”
We make our way off at U.S. Bank Stadium station and switch to the third car.
8:10 a.m., Midway, St. Paul
Tabke, now running late to the Transportation Finance and Policy Committee meeting he vice chairs, takes a moment to review two bills that will be heard within the hour.
While he does that, I notice a person sitting behind Tabke rubbing his pale hands. I toss him my hand warmers and learn the man, Edgar Hernandez of St. Paul, is on his way home from working an overnight shift at a warehouse by the Canterbury Racetrack in Shakopee. To get home, he waits an hour for the first 499 bus, which allows him to transfer to a bus to get him home. Hernandez says he will move to Shakopee soon to be closer to work.
Tabke’s intrigued and asks his future constituent some follow-up questions.
8:27 a.m., Capitol/Rice Street Station, St. Paul
We get off at Capitol/Rice Street Station and walk to the Capitol, one hour and 45 minutes after Tabke’s wife dropped him off in Shakopee. After recognizing a person holding the train’s door as someone who makes disruptive public comment at committee meetings, Tabke is ready to do the people’s work, which pays $48,250 annually, plus a $66 per diem during session.
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