ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Commuters who refuse to wear a mask on New York City subways, trains and buses could face a $50 fine starting Monday.
The agency that runs one of the world's busiest transit systems, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, can issue fines once the agency files emergency regulations with the secretary of state, Chairman Patrick Foye said Thursday. The public can also weigh in on the agency's new regulation, he said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio had earlier urged sick commuters to stay off public transit if possible to help reduce spread of COVID-19.
Now, New York City transit officials say the vast majority of commuters are complying with New York's mask requirement at a time when ridership is picking up, though still far from pre-pandemic levels. Foye said the agency's surveys across the vast transit system spanning New York City and suburban communities suggest compliance is as high as 96% on city buses, 90% on subways and over 90% on Metro North and Long Island Rail Road.
But some passengers refuse to wear a mask even when offered one by a transit worker, said Sarah Feinberg, interim president of the MTA agency that operates public transit in New York City.
“This is a last resort,” she said in a conference call with reporters. “This is really for the very few people who refuse to wear a mask when offered.”
“Frankly, they don’t have the right to scare anyone from the system,” she later added.
Unions representing transit workers have pressed the MTA to heighten enforcement of mask-wearing for months. Local 100 president Tony Utano said his union's July survey found that on some bus routes only 60% of riders were wearing masks.
“Anyone who doesn’t wear a mask, or some other face covering, puts everyone at risk,” Utano said. "We recognize that a fine could be hardship for some. You know what’s harder? Going to a funeral because someone didn’t wear a mask on a bus or train.”
Cuomo said he worries about an influx of car traffic into New York City and said he hopes the penalty will help encourage New Yorkers to return to public transit by lowering the possibility of getting infected while using transit.
Feinberg said the penalty will be enforced by MTA police and New York Police Department officers — not transit workers.
“We will not be asking our own workforce to enforce this," she said. "They already have plenty to do, and this is not their job.”
The NYPD had stopped enforcing mask-wearing in mid-May following the release of a video showing officers handcuffing a mother. De Blasio said at the time that officers would prioritize dispersing gatherings of adults.
Public health experts have raised concerns about overcrowding on public transit, and are urging commuters to wear masks, stay 6 feet (2 meters) apart from others, avoid crowds, practice hand hygiene and avoid transit if vulnerable.
Feinberg acknowledged that some people wear masks incorrectly and fail to cover their mouth and nose.
“We will of course continue to give people direction and remind them to wear their mask properly,” she said.
But she cautioned: “I don’t believe incorrect mask wearing would be an enforceable item.”