MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Commuters in the Twin Cities have been rattled by a series of attacks on buses in recent weeks, including two killings, and police have stepped up patrols of mass transit to safeguard worried passengers.
Transit officials insist the three violent crimes since early March were isolated problems.
``I'm not minimizing how serious this is, but I guess my perspective has to be that we provided 74 million rides last year with only a few minor incidents,'' said Dave Indrehus, the police chief for Metro Transit. ``We've got a safe system.''
Kevin Davis is among the passengers who are increasingly concerned for their safety. He now avoids interacting with other commuters.
``I don't look at anybody on the bus. I don't talk to anybody on the bus. I just look down and mind my own business,'' Davis said Tuesday as he waited at a stop along Route 5, considered the city's most rough-and-tumble route.
Acording to the Federal Transit Administration, there were only eight homicides on buses and commuter trains nationwide from 2002 to 2006, with the most in a single year being four in 2003.
``You shouldn't have to worry about something so simple as riding on a bus,'' said Davis, who doesn't have a car.
In the first attack, a man trying to calm down rowdy behavior on a bus in Minneapolis was shot in the chest March 8 but survived. A 15-year-old boy was facing attempted murder charges.
Four days later, a 60-year-old man who had been yelling at a bus driver in Minneapolis died after another passenger punched him in the face, causing him to fall backward and hit his head on the pavement. The other passenger, a 47-year-old man, was charged with second-degree murder.
Early Sunday, a 16-year-old boy was shot to death on a bus in downtown St. Paul. Authorities arrested a 17-year-old boy who they say knew the victim.
It's all been enough to worry the thousands of Twin Cities residents who rely on buses, the most popular means of public transportation in the area.
``I see a lot of messed-up stuff, and that's all the time,'' said Rosealee Jones, a Minneapolis woman who commutes to work by bus. ``You get afraid something's going to happen, but usually it's just big talk _ kids acting foolish. I don't like to think that's changing.''
Indrehus said the violence on buses is a ``reflection of what happens in the communities that they serve.''
Transit police are increasing the number of officers on buses, with six to eight officers now spending a full shift on a bus each day and others rotating through for partial shifts.
On Monday, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak proposed spending $500,000 for safety improvements such as increasing police patrols along Route 5.
Indrehus said Metro Transit is installing more security cameras on buses. It's also encouraging MAD DADS, a national men's group that seeks to provide positive role models for troubled youth, to increase its recent practice of bus ride-alongs on some urban routes.
``We want to be there before people starting getting outrageous, to calm them down and get them in a positive frame of mind,'' said V.J. Smith, president of the Minneapolis chapter.
Riders said they are happy to see anything that would make their travels safer. But all agree the most effective measure will be having more officers along for the ride.
``The police are going to have to step it up,'' said Eddie Lipsco, who said he's disabled and needs the bus to get to his doctor's appointments. ``That's the only thing that's going to make these punks settle down.''