While riding a Metro bus last week, I finally witnessed an operator using his authority to get a rider who refused to wear a mask off the bus. The rider boarded the bus, talking to himself loudly, and sat in the back. The operator played the canned message about needing to wear a mask. He waited a few seconds, then got on the loudspeaker to let everyone know they need to wear a mask while on the bus. The guy in the back didn’t budge, but kept talking loudly to himself. (I realize there may be a medical condition involved here.)
The operator proceeded a couple stops. He then walked toward the back, and told the rider he needed to put on a mask, or get off the bus, and also to please be quiet and stop disturbing the rest of the riders.
At the following stop, another rider walked back to the rider and offered him a mask. He either declined or never put the mask on.
A few stops later, the operator got on the loudspeaker again, and said he had called a supervisor to come to that stop. The supervisor would take the rider where he needed to go. But he had also called the police. The rider would either depart the bus, or be escorted off by the police. The rider chose to depart, cursing out the operator as he alighted.
The operator got on the loudspeaker again and apologized for the delay.
While acts of bravery like this are not for every operator, and possibly not even the best or safest practice, it is the sum of many tactics – including making face coverings freely available, keeping most riders socially distant from the operator so operators don’t become super-spreaders, keeping doors closed to those who haven’t put on a mask, educational efforts, frequent disinfection spraying, and sufficient service to enable social distancing — that help make the bus or train a safe place to be.
Besides the risk of violence, the operator’s due diligence on enforcing the mask requirement had a downside. The bus was over 10 minutes late starting the route. It had a load factor of ca. 0.5, meaning that every pair of seats had someone in it, and was well over Metro’s 12-passenger limit for a 40-foot bus.
As it happens, this route is slated to drop to hourly service at the time of night this incident happened, come September 19. At that time of night, enforcing the passenger limit results in stranding riders, which is probably why the operator chose not to enforce it. (The solution to some of the Friday/Saturday night capacity issues might not be to keep more frequency every night, but simply to add capacity on Friday or Saturday nights, and denote in the schedules that certain runs only occur on Friday nights.)
Pranav Baskar at National Public Radio recently discussed the state of safety on public transit.
If you have been riding the bus, train, streetcar, ferry, or plane lately, how was your experience, and did you have to deal with fellow riders not wearing a mask or not wearing it properly?