Transit officials and police will step up enforcement against people who won’t wear a mask on public transportation, starting Thursday, Sept. 23, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority leaders.
“To keep moving New York City forward safely, we need everyone to do their part and mask up,” said MTA Chief Safety Officer Pat Warren at a press conference outside MTA headquarters Wednesday. “If you don’t mask up, you should not be surprised when you have to pay up.”
As per a federal mandate, everyone on public transit must wear a mask in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on subways, buses, commuter rail, para-transit, or at indoor stations.
Police can take riders flouting the law off the transit system and fine them $50, but MTA has not issued a summons since July 22, and a mere 41 times since the policy began a year ago, according to data provided by the agency.
That will change now, said the acting chief of MTA’s Police Department.
“I want to make it clear that we just want you to wear a mask and we’re happy to provide one if you forget yours at home,” said Chief Joe McGrann. “But make no mistake, if you refuse, you can expect to face a $50 fine.”
Latest MTA figures show mask compliance is about 94% for buses, 87% on subways, 92% on the Long Island Rail Road, and 95% on the Metro-North Railroad, according to Warren.
That’s a much better picture than the latest stats posted on the MTA website, where counts show only 79% wearing a mask correctly on buses between Aug. 9-20, and 74% on subways from Aug. 23-Sept. 3.
MTA began a mask distribution “blitz” after Labor Day on Sept. 7, deploying MTA staff and cops to key transit hubs to hand out masks and remind riders about the mandate, officials said.
Ridership has crept up during that time, with MTA cracking 3 million travelers on the subways for the first time since the pandemic began on Sept. 14, still almost 49% lower than pre-COVID. A recent peak on the bus was at 1.5 million straphangers on that same day, 38% less than pre-pandemic.
Police themselves have been caught repeatedly by riders on social media not wearing masks or wearing them incorrectly, prompting even MTA acting chief Janno Lieber to recently admit he’d like the Boys in Blue to be “a little better” at masking up.
While many of those incidences are of the NYPD — which is separate from MTA PD — Chief McGrann said his officers are imperfect but that he will discipline them, when “appropriate,” when amNewYork Metro asked about it, and he noted 10 recent penalties he gave to his staff of roughly 900 officers.
“My officers are also members of the public, my officers also make mistakes, my officers receive discipline when it’s appropriate,” the top transit cop said. “In the past few weeks alone, I’ve given out discipline to two supervisors and eight police officers for failure to wear masks appropriately in public situations.”