The MTA has stopped collecting and publishing data on mask compliance in its subways and buses even though Big Apple commuters still have to cover their face while in transit by law, amNewYork Metro has learned.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority last published stats of its bi-weekly surveys in April but have since discontinued the counts, according to agency spokesperson Michael Cortez.
Cortez did not provide more information about the agency’s decision by press time.
Transit officials began publishing the numbers two years ago in June 2020, alternating every two weeks between buses and subways, and just a couple of months after then-Governor Andrew Cuomo began requiring masks in transit in April.
During its first counts, MTA found that 91% of subway riders were wearing a mask and 96% of commuters on the buses were following the rule.
But rates have been slipping over the past year, as vaccines became widely available and after city and state leaders began to lift mask mandates at other public settings like restaurants, entertainment venues, and schools.
Those flouting the rules could face a $50 fine, but enforcement by police was lax and even NYPD brass admitted they gave out only “very few” tickets.
Police officers were routinely caught patrolling the transit system without the face coverings themselves, and in one case even forcefully ejected a rider for asking them to mask up last fall.
The last stats available from April showed all-time lows with compliance numbers dropping to 64% of subway riders wearing a mask correctly and 67% of bus commuters.
MTA Chairperson and CEO Janno Lieber said at the time that “other issues” were more pressing to New Yorkers.
“People are, I think, mostly complying,” Lieber told reporters after the monthly MTA board meeting in April. “Compliance level definitely has eroded somewhat, because people are going to so many other places where masking is not expected of them, so it’s definitely a little bit confusing.”
“It is not huge drama on our mass transit system. There are other issues which are, I think, more important to New Yorkers right now as they use mass transit and resume coming to work,” the transit big added.
Governor Kathy Hochul has kept the transit mask mandate in place for New York State, even after a federal judge in Florida struck down a nationwide rule for the face coverings in April.
The governor said on Thursday she was hesitant to lift the requirement in case there’s another surge of COVID-19 infections, as was the case just a few weeks ago in mid-May when transmissions and hospitalizations rose due to a subvariant of the Omicron strain.
“We’re heading to a place where we should be able to have those conversations soon, but I also want people to feel safe and secure safety wise, but also health-wise,” Hochul told reporters at the Moynihan Train Hall in Midtown on June 9.
One transit booster said that the various masking rules have become mixed signals for straphangers.
“We hear from riders across the spectrum that it doesn’t make sense to be concerned about wearing a mask on a subway and then go to Madison Square Garden and be in a concert with 30,000 people,” said Lisa Daglian, executive director of MTA’s in-house rider advocacy arm, the Permanent Citizens Advisory Council.
Daglian said the MTA’s priorities had shifted, even if the mask requirement remains in place on paper.
“It’s not just an idea, it’s the law,” she said. “Not having those numbers, on the one hand it is another indication of loss of data points, on the other it may show that priorities have shifted to think about what people are really focusing on instead.”