Since my last fit-throwing over passengers not wearing face coverings on buses, I’ve seen noticeable improvement in passengers having masks. Now, we need to figure out how to get them to put the masks on, over their mouth and nose, before they board the bus, and how to get them to keep the masks on.

Bus operators have some power over the ship they captain. One is the power of the voice, as in, to play PSAs, which is mostly done inside the bus, but can also be done over the exterior loudspeaker.

Another power is the power of the door. Operators control them, at least since Metro abandoned the experiment of allowing riders to open rear doors by pushing on them, while the bus is stopped.

A third power is the power of the gas pedal and the brake. Operators decide whether to stop when someone is waiting to board.

Used in combination, these tools could save many riders’ (and maybe a few operators’) lives.

Usually, masklessness starts before boarding. Passing up a rider who looks “non-destinational”, just because they don’t have a mask or don’t have it on, would be the extreme (but still possibly life-saving) approach.

An alternative approach is to stop, but keep the doors closed, and then play an external message, such as, “Wearing a face covering over your mouth and nose is required before you board the bus.” Wait a few seconds for them to comply. Move on if they don’t. Given the high rate of mask possession I have observed, most will put their masks on at that point.

But what if other passengers are also waiting there, and the rest have their masks on? Same plan. Keep the doors closed and play the message. Once the chin-wearer pulls their mask up, then open the door. Everyone else waiting there will be glad the driver took the time to goad their non-compliant compatriot into putting the mask on.

But what if other riders are trying to alight? Same plan. Wait, and let the passengers inside know why the operator can’t open the door yet. Those trying to alight will be glad when they don’t have to pass by a mouth-breather spewing potentially toxic water droplets at them. It might it even make some feel safer about riding Metro again.

This should clear up 90%+ of the cases of unmasked riders.

Then there are those passengers who take their masks off once seated. And of course, they will be sitting behind someone else, and breathing on their neck. Slight alteration to the plan. Play the interior message about masks being required while riding Metro. Then sit there. Inform the passengers over the loudspeaker that the bus is not going anywhere until everyone has their mask on.

If the troublemaker walks toward the front, start driving (slowly enough that he will sit down), and call security. That passenger may not be physically violent, but he is risking the lives of his fellow passengers nonetheless. Once security arrives, they can start by offering a mask if he doesn’t have one, and take down his identification so as to track future transgressions. If he refuses and does not have a doctor’s note as to why he can’t wear a mask safely, then tell him he has to leave the bus.

But don’t physically remove him from the bus, at least yet. Have a replacement bus already there, and everyone else can move to that bus. Then take the original bus back to base for biohazard/deep cleaning.

The externality of stopping other respiratory viruses

Most common respiratory viruses spread the same way the novel coronavirus does: through water droplets exhaled by an infected person. Studies have shown that the proper wearing of masks (mostly by infected people) and washing hands has helped reduce their spread. If someone spews a talking point at you about the flu being just as deadly, that’s all the more reason for them to WEAR THEIR DAMN MASK.

28 Replies to “Give operators more tools to enforce mask-wearing”

  1. Brent, what they taught us in martial arts is that whoever loses their temper, loses the fight. As Taylor Swift recently titled a favorite video of mine, “You Need To Calm Down.” STB? Anybody links that, dump it!

    Not only will any driver doing half of what you’re suggesting get summarily relieved of duty and lose their job beyond retrieval for Gross Misconduct. But they’ll also run the risk of rolling over somebody mask-compliant shoved under your duals by somebody else running alongside the bus banging on the door.

    Unspoken “Prime Directive” in operating a passenger vehicle is that you do not do anything that will result result in passengers, either aboard or in zones encountering anything unexpected. Let alone provoking conflict of any kind. Enforcement is not in your job description, period. The phone on your console is there to avail you of the specialists whose job it is.

    Your own passenger-handling tools start with your brain, your professionalism, and your manners. Your union local’s got a grievance worthy of a work-action if anybody comes out of training who’s not star-quality on Public Address. “Ladies and gentlemen, my little girl will tell on me if we all don’t keep our masks all the way on!”

    Instruction also owes it to you to show you how to keep your phone receiver out of sight while you call the police, whose job description presumes “back-up.” But I’ll say on SPD’s behalf that since Mask- Enforcement isn’t their work either, I’m already “down” for a call-in campaign to transit’s “Electeds” to give teams of military nurses their first civilian employment, roaming riding, and persuading.

    But Brent, ingratitude for this morning’s first thundering “I’VE HAD IT!” that I always need to to get me out of bed, here’s the masterpiece you need to become familiar with entailments of the job description”Captain:”

    Too bad they never did the sequel. Where, after the Navy cuts him loose in Bremerton, Humphrey Bogart gets a job driving 1954 Pullmans for Seattle Transit. Though remembering Chicago streetcars of that year Captain Queeg would’ve done better aboard a system where matters like both fares and masks were handled by a conductor.

    Cut! Cut! Cut! Script department, change that to Great Lakes Naval Air Station. There was an Electroliner stop right there! White-table-cloth ride straight to The Loop! Ok, take it from “Who ate my strawberries” and…..Roll ‘Em!

    Mark Dublin

    1. I’m not sure whether allowing someone to board a bus and infect other riders with the novel coronavirus counts as “professionalism”.

    2. Or let me put it this way…

      If someone is around other people outside their household, and not wearing a mask, their very breath is violence.

      If you allow an unmasked rider to board, you are an accessory to the violence that rider is about to unleash on the riders they walk by.

      1. I’m a driver. I want more people to wear their masks properly if only for my safety but I’m not going to do any of these things. The simple reason is that Metro has told us to not enforce the mask policies which means if I do I’m going to face punishment and possible job loss when I do and someone loses their shit.

        Metro told us that fare enforcement will be downtown and on buses to help with mask compliance. I haven’t even seen them loitering downtown let alone on my bus. If we want compliance we should be asking management to make good on enforcement that isn’t driver based. We get assaulted enough without having someone without a mask screaming and spitting in our faces.

        We don’t have access to any prerecorded PSAs for mask compliance. If you hear one on the bus that is coming from the control center and is fleet wide. I hear them maybe once an hour after 8am if that. They don’t work. No one puts on a mask after they’re played.

  2. It won’t be easy. We’ve seen how defensive people can be about being told to wear a mask. This happened a few weeks ago on the 372 I was riding. (I was near the back, so I’m not 100% on some of the details)

    Person A near the front of the bus wasn’t wearing a mask. Person B complained to them. Person A refused to put on a mask. Person B took a picture of them. Person A got very angry and started shouting at Person B. Person B started shouting back. 1 of the people shoved the other. Person B started screaming “call the police!”. The bus driver parked at the next bus stop and radioed for police to come. We initially weren’t allowed to get off. Another 372 came and passed while we were stuck on the bus listening to the 2 people shout at each other. Eventually, the drive let everyone else off. The next 372 came before the police did.

    I don’t know what happened to the 2 people. But for passengers, we were delayed by 30 minutes because 1 person was too selfish to wear a mask. I don’t know what the driver could/should have done differently.

    Wear your damn masks!

    1. If I have someone on my bus who refuses to wear a mask, I want the bus to hurry up and drive to my destination, so the amount of time I’m breathing the potentially contaminated air is kept to an absolute minimum. The last thing I want is to be stuck on the bus with the mask refuser for 30 minutes, waiting for the police to arrive.

      The duration of COVID exposure makes a big difference in both likelihood of getting sick and the severity of the symptoms.

      1. I haven’t seen very many riders actually pull down their masks once they get on board, so this is the very occasional scenario.

        I have seen dozens of riders board without pulling up their masks, and plenty, though fewer, boarding without any sign of having a mask. Some, a minority of this group, put their masks on once they sit down, after they have already sprayed everyone they walk by to their seat.

        The mask-non-wearing may be less than 20% on some routes, but over half the ridership on others. Regardless, Metro is unrideable right now, until they get this mask non-wearing pandemic under control.

        Not opening the door until passengers have all pulled up their masks minimizes the risk to everyone on board. And the vast majority of those not getting it will probably comply if the operator simply asks before they board. The vast majority of non-wearers aren’t being belligerent, just uninformed, and unasked before they board.

        But asking them with the PSA after they board seems to get scant notice. I hear the message get played more on buses that are 100% compliant than I do on buses that have several non-wearers, as if operators are afraid to play it in the latter situation. I have yet to see anyone react to the interior PSA by pulling up their mask.

    2. Retrofit the bus air-conditioning to be suction ports, and have the driver control the amount of suck that can be drawn from the ‘mask avoider’s area.

      Crank that puppy up full blast!

      1. Brent, drivers have no control over the PSA that’s played regarding mask wearing. I have asked management for that and was told Metro doesn’t want to “shame” passengers. And I get passengers who nightly sit down and take off their masks. The best a driver can do is protect themselves and report non-compliance.

        Perhaps you’re familiar with the Paris bus driver who was beaten to death for asking someone to put on a mask. When Metro implemented load limits, bus windows were broken and drivers were spit on for trying to enforce that. We are barely given proper PPE, let alone are trained to enforce rules – especially rules that Metro management seems unwilling to enforce.

    3. Brent, if by “you”, you mean the transit agency that’s refusing to give drivers and passengers the skilled, trained, and also “sworn” division of specialists that this emergency duty requires, and that I’ve been demanding from my elected officials for a month….

      By way of thanks for your support, let me finish up with the heartfelt wish that neither your safety nor your life ever depend on the design strength of the average transit-vehicle door in the face of what-all the world keeps ready to kill you for if you cross it.

      Especially considering the percentage of our citizens who think that above all else, the Second Amendment’s authors’ main concern has always been protection from the exact kind of arbitrary tyranny that keeps a keeps a taxpayer’s ride conditional on facial-gear understood worldwide to display, in a President’s own words….WEAKNESS.

      Since the last time that 372 driver could’ve been me was 25 years ago, would appreciate it if at least one replacement of mine could answer me the following. Confining passengers against their will aboard a bus stopped safely in a zone in a situation building to violence is still termination in its own right and likely liability if anyone gets hurt. Isn’t it?

      Though I guess I do need to remember that at this writing, the judgment-level behind both the the train- wreck at Dupont and the loss of two Boeing 737’s in a row still permits its practitioner to, with a straight face, present a business card that says “Professional.”

      Mark Dublin

  3. And Brent, that’s supposed to read IN GRATITUDE FOR! Read your script, Mark! His captaincy problems aside, the movie ends with even a critical fellow officer throwing a full glass of wine in his Humphrey’s chief accuser’s face, in recognition of his lifelong devotion to his Navy. ‘Way too good for those Clark Street Peter Witts past the Stockyards!. Electroliner motorman-material For Sure!


  4. I saw a significant change after the governor ordered everyone to wear masks outside if they’re around others. Buses that were previously 50% went up to 90%. I was on about ten buses and two trains in the past ten days (including a 3-seat ride and a 2-seat ride), and everyone around me was wearning masks. I couldn’t find anyone who wasn’t. This was on the 131 and 132 (previously bad), 7, 8, 10, 11, 45, 49, 50, 71, and Link.

    Outside it’s a different story. In central Seattle most people have masks, although you sometimes run across a couple who don’t. (Or even, one person in the couple has a mask and the other doesn’t.) The loud crowd at 3rd & Pike-Pine is less, maybe 50% or 66%, but all who got on the bus had masks.

    1. For whatever it’s worth, in the more suburban-style neighborhoods like the one I am in now (mostly single family homes), most people who are walking around are not wearing masks. I tend to go overboard so I wear one even just to take the garbage out to the curb, as the sidewalks are narrow and 6ft distancing is a pipe dream. Occasionally I get odd looks from maskless people passing by (usually the same people who don’t give a rats’ ass about maintaining safe distance), so I’ve taken to taking the garbage out late at night to avoid such encounters.

    2. I personally do not wear a mask when I’m just walking around in my neighborhood, but if a person passes by, I will move over into the street to maintain a 6 foot distance, if possible. If not, I just hold my breath when I pass by, and in less than a second, it’s over. You can’t get COVID from someone passing within three feet of you, outdoors, for half a second – the closeness has to be sustained for enough time to inhale enough virus particles in order to get sick.

      Indoors, I am much more religious about wearing masks. I now always wear one at the grocery store, or any other business, and certainly wear one on the bus, or waiting light rail. I’ll also wear one outdoors if I’m around people for a sustained period of time, for example, waiting at a bus stop. Even when I’m not wearing a mask, I still carry one, so if I do spontaneously decide to hop in somewhere, the mask is there, and I can pull it out.

      In general, common sense is a good guide.

  5. I’m mainly concerned about an increasing number of full buses. I’m wondering if I’ll be able to go to Costco anymore because of the difficulty in getting a northbound bus back afterward. I haven’t been turned away yet but once the bus got full en route, and usually it’s just a couple seats under it, and the last time I ended up basically strong-arming a seat. The 132 came with a “Bus full” sign but it stopped and some people got off and three or our got on. I sat down and the driver said something in front I couldn’t quite hear but I think it was along the lines of “This bus isn’t moving until three people get off.” I thought the rule was if the bus stops to let somebody off, then everyone at the stop can get on. Eventually one person then two more got off and the bus started moving. I felt bad for them, but damned if I’m going to wait for another bus when I’ve got eggs and kimchi that must get to a refrigerator soon, and the next bus might be full too and I’ll be waiting half an hour for a bus and there’s no bench there to sit. And then at the very next stop three people got off, so if those other three had stayed on then the problem would have cleared up anyway in one stop.

    After that, a week ago Sunday I wanted to go to Seward Park and I was concerned about the 7 sometimes being full and I wondered if the 106 would be too. The 50 is half-hourly so i didn’t know how well it would coordinate with Link. And I was wondering, if I can’t take the 7 or 106, and Link and the 50 are half-hourly and hard to coordinate, then will it be infeasible to go between southeast Seattle and central Seattle? That reminded me of cities where there’s no bus service or it’s all hourly, and I realized this was effectively the same situation. In on case there are no buses to take; in the other case the buses are too full to take. In the end I took Link to Rainier Beach; the 50 was scheduled 10 minutes later but I walked instead (50 minutes to Seward Park). On the way back I took the 50+7+8. The 7 was not very busy for once. But I transferred to the 8 at Mt Baker to give a seat to somebody further north because that’s where it gets fullest (and I assumed the 8 would be pretty empty, and I hadn’t ridden the south half of the 8 for a long time).

    Last Sunday I returned my books at the Central Library and took the 12 up to Trader Joe’s. The sign said “Bus full” but it stopped and let me on with no opposition. There were only three other passengers so I don’t know why the sign was on. Maybe the driver didn’t realize it was on.

    Other routes I’ve seen with “Bus full” signs were a southbound 124 and 150 in Pioneer Square near the PM peak. They were too far away for me to tell whether they were really full, but at that time they probably would be.

    1. One trick to get to Seward Park is to just take Link to Columbia City Station, and not with the 50 at all. Link doesn’t have the capacity limits that the 7 does, and if you don’t ride the 50, the transfer time doesn’t matter.

      The walk between the station and the park entrance is just over 30 minutes.

    2. Columbia City Station is closer than Othello Station? (And it was Othello above, not Rainier Beach.)

      1. I think technically Othello station is slightly closer, but the difference is tiny, and I prefer to walk from Columbia City Station because it’s on mostly residential streets and staircases, rather than 35 mph arterials.

      2. We’ve done the same walk and Columbia City is definitely preferable. Assuming Third Place Books is open, it’s even better/closer.

      3. I didn’t go on an arterial. I went east on Myrtle Street, which is a narrow residential street east of MLK; north on 44th Street, which is the north-south greenway and closed to cars for the first part, past Graham until 44th ended at Juneau Street; then east for a block; north on Rainier for just two blocks; and east on Orcas Street to the park entrance.

    3. Favor you can do drivers, passengers, and the transit system alike, Mike. Next time somebody lays down the law with an inaudible order, note time, location, route, and coach number and file a complaint.

      Specifying that the driver be trained in the use of her own PA system, which I’d bet most drivers aren’t. If you’ve got the time, cc your elected reps. Because whatever her intentions, her sulky-sounding failure to communicate certainly did put her in danger of getting hurt.

      “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but I’m not allowed to move my bus until someone gets off. My follower will be along.” Out of a whole bus-load, somebody will volunteer.

      Mark Dublin

  6. Since I think Brent’s topic here is making sure that passengers not only wear their masks aboard but wear them so they work, I don’t think transit has to wait ’til JBLM starts providing those advisory nurses.

    Put together a corps of people who will stand in the zone beside the door both repeatedly demonstrating correct use of the mask, and also handing them out to those who need them. But who are also familiar enough with routes and schedules that they can help with passenger information.

    Considering the current medical risk, does the law allow this work to be done by volunteers? I would also personally have no problem whatever if sworn, uniformed police occasionally boarded the bus, explained the mask’s proper use, and removed anybody flatly refusing to cooperate.

    SPD rank and file, I think this blog’s creators will assure that you get a fair hearing, in return for knowledge and perspective that transit, its operators, and its passengers truly need. If this sheriff’s deputies work…same holds. Drivers’ seat, passenger seat, aisle, or platform, we’re all on board the same system.

    Mark Dublin

  7. “Passing up a rider who looks “non-destinational””
    I don’t think that would fly legally or logistically in Seattle.

    1. Since customer services themselves told me over the phone that by law destinationality is the passenger’s “call”, no driver had better admit to it when their Base Chief calls them in to discuss the complaint.

      Besides, how does the saying go….”Not all who wander are non-destinational?” So considering many people’s most likely destination, better just leave it lie.

      Mark Dublin

      1. I’ve been “non-destinational” in the summer before all day simply because my apartment is a furnace and I had no other access to air conditioning I was comfortable staying in. Never got a glance or look from any driver.

        Not this year tho. Haven’t left my apartment since March.

  8. I have been leaving on essential journeys up to two hours early for several reasons. Part of the time, I opt to walk seventeen minutes to Link and then wait up to twenty minutes for it, as with four cars, I can choose which car to board. Otherwise I take Metro 50 or 7 (Columbia City). Ten percent of the time, a nearly empty coach or two displaying that it is full will pass me by. Then I’ll walk until the next stop, only to find the next coach to be full with no social distancing, nearly every seat taken, so I let it pass. If I catch the next, then I’ll have half mask compliant fellow passengers and the other half either without any or it’s under their chin or just over their mouth. At that point, I deboard. This has resulted in my walking the entire four miles by foot, necessitating the extra time I allot, as I am immune-compromised and cannot take the chance these others and the driver seem fine with me taking.

  9. A bus driver in France was killed for asking someone to wear a mask and more recently a driver in San Francisco was hit repeatedly with a baseball bat for asking someone to wear a mask. You expect bus drivers to ask people to wear a mask after that happens?

    1. FWIW, the French driver asked four men who were already on the bus to wear their masks.

      The San Francisco driver asked three passengers already on the bus multiple times.

      These two cases don’t make an argument against keeping doors closed while asking passengers to mask up before boarding.

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