With Montreal reopening, STM to hand out free masks to commuters

While the STM is strongly urging passengers to wear a face mask or face covering at all times, it won't be mandatory, said chair Philippe Schnobb.

Face coverings won't be mandatory, but Montreal's transit agency strongly encouraging the practice

Masks will be given away to thousands of commuters in Montreal this month, as part of efforts to keep people safe as the city eyes reopening. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

To encourage passengers to cover their faces, Montreal's transit authority has ordered more than 500,000 reusable masks that will be handed out to commuters.

While the STM is strongly urging passengers to wear a face mask or face covering at all times, it won't be mandatory, said Philippe Schnobb, chair of the public transit agency.

"If we make it mandatory, that will mean we have to put measures to make sure that it would be followed and I don't think our inspectors have time to give fines for someone who doesn't wear a mask."

The STM has partnered up with Exo, the transit authority serving the greater Montreal region, as well as the Laval and Longueuil transit agencies to distribute masks.

STM employees have also been given two reusable face masks each.

Earlier this week, Quebec's Transport Ministry issued a statement saying wearing a face covering on public transit is "highly recommended," but it does not replace other health recommendations such as keeping a safe distance from others and practising proper hygiene and respiratory etiquette.

The transit agency is ramping up service to ensure fewer passengers are on buses and Metros during rush hour, in hopes of making physical distancing easier as Montreal prepares to reopen in two weeks.

Metro lines resumed their regular schedules this week, and buses will run on a schedule similar to the regular summer schedule, with 1,225 buses on the road at rush hour.

The STM reduced its services as a result of a significant drop in ridership due to the pandemic — at the end of March, bus use had dropped 75 per cent and Metro ridership had dropped 80 per cent compared to the year before.

Quebec shut down all but essential businesses March 23, and on Thursday, the province announced that elementary schools, daycares and some retail stores in the Montreal area will reopen May 25, a week later than originally planned.

Montreal is the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in Quebec, with 17,918 cases and 1,666 deaths as of May 7.

What will Montreal public transit look like post-quarantine?

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CBC journalist Sarah Leavitt takes a look at what life will be like once COVID-19 measures begin to loosen and Montrealers start to commute again. 2:13

Fares to be validated again

Currently, passengers are asked to board buses from the back and keep a two-metre distance from each other and from the driver.

The STM is now working to install physical barriers, made of a material similar to Plexiglass, in its buses so that passengers will be able to board buses from the front without coming in contact with the driver — meaning fares will soon be validated again.

Adaptive transport vehicles will have a similar barrier between the driver and passengers.

Luc Tremblay, STM's executive director, said it has hired more inspectors to circulate in the Metro stations and enforce distancing measures. It is unclear how many more inspectors were hired.

The STM has reported a dramatic drop in Metro ridership over the last two months. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Cleaning measures

The agency had already increased the frequency of cleaning operations, but they will take additional measures in the coming weeks.

Tremblay said employees have been reassigned from other projects to help with cleaning and maintenance.

The agency is working on making credit and debit card services available at more Metro stations to avoid the use of cash, and all stations will be equipped with hand sanitizer by mid-May.

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