MTA enacts enforcement of mask order in public transit – but will it work?

MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye joins the Mask Force to distribute free masks to customers on Mon., September 14, 2020.
(Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

By Mark Hallum

The MTA said Monday that they had begun an outreach effort to not only give those without masks on trains and buses a face covering, but to issue a $50 fine to anyone who refuses to do so through a program forged through what appears to many as a dubious partnership with NYPD.

MTA Chairman Pat Foye spent hours on subways and Long Island Rail Road trains Monday handing out masks to the very few who dared to enter stations without them. He also faced persistent questions from reporters regarding the efficacy of the new enforcement policy centered around the commonality of cops themselves disregarding Governor Andrew Cuomo’s mask mandate and the possible repercussions for New Yorkers historically subject to over-policing.

The additional measure is not only in the hope of attracting riders back to mass transit, Foye said, but also in the spirit of keeping conditions on the system as healthy as possible for commuters and agency employees.

“We are not interested in issuing fines, collecting fines or issuing summonses and police officers in the course of the job will of course use discretion,” Foye said. “We believe that if customers continue to wear masks at the levels that they are currently wearing them then we have the ability to drive it further.”

“We have many rules and regulations in the transit system; don’t smoke, don’t litter, don’t drink, all of the rules and regulations you’re familiar with. This is just another one,” interim New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg added. “We’re not looking to fine people, we’re not looking for the police to fine people. What we’re looking for is compliance and we’re doing everything we possibly can to make sure we’re making it as easy as possible to wear a mask.”

On buses, mask compliance is estimated at 96% — and it’s about the same on subways.

According to Foye, his discussions with NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea and was assured that the police would follow the mask mandate they themselves will be following the requirement they are tasked with upholding.

This comes in spite of NYPD officers being directed in May to no longer issue summonses for mask non-compliance or social distancing after a stop in the East Village raised questions of police brutality.

Shea delivered a similar message on NY1 Monday, in stating that compliance rather than citations are top priority.

“Regarding the officers wearing mask, we’ve lost 46 members of the NYPD since this pandemic has started,” Shea said during the interview. “It is not something that we take lightly, it’s something that we stress all the time, I would not agree with one of the statements that you made about [cops] refusing to wear a mask. Could you get a picture of an officer who takes his mask off? Of course you can, like you can get any New Yorker… But to categorize it that they’re out there not wearing masks I don’t think is fair.”

But while Shea may disagree with the perception that cops themselves are not following the rules on masks, it has become a common perception. So common, in fact, it has warranted the creation of a Twitter page devoted to collecting evidence of NYPD officers either ditching face coverings completely in situations where its inappropriate or wearing them incorrectly.