Majority of New Brunswick bus riders complying with face mask requirement
Some passengers complain when others board unmasked
If the first week of requiring face masks on public transit is any indication, riders seem to be willing to play by the rules, said a spokesperson for the City of Moncton.
Austin Henderson said supervisors have been doing surreptitious spot checks on routes in New Brunswick's three largest cities to see whether passengers are wearing masks.
In Moncton, for example, the average compliance rate for the week was between 85 and 90 per cent, he said.
"So what that number is is random checks that our supervisors are doing — might not be the case on all of the buses, but it does give us a good idea that compliance is high and that passengers are continuing to do their part."
But Henderson acknowledges that the city has also received complaints from riders who have said they were the only ones on the bus wearing a mask.
He said the rates are an average, and compliance does vary.
"So we're hearing a little bit of everything, and overall, passengers are pleased that now we can finally have more people on the bus."
Until last week, buses in Moncton were operating with a capacity of six passengers. In Saint John and Fredericton, the maximum was nine, said Henderson.
"And what that meant is that a lot of times in our busier routes, people were actually left behind, which literally goes against the very purpose of the public transit system."
The new measures mean that ridership can increase to between 15 and 20 — which is still only 50 per cent of regular capacity.
Henderson said Codiac Transpo has been working on the new rules in collaboration with the transit groups in Saint John and Fredericton as part of a plan to relax restrictions.
Passengers were given a week's warning about the requirement to wear masks.
He said transit officials in other Canadian cities are keeping an eye on how things are working in New Brunswick, since the province is ahead of many others in terms of relaxing COVID-19-related restrictions.
The three transit authorities have made a lot of changes since mid-March in order to protect riders and reduce the spread of COVID-19. Henderson said the measures all follow the guidance of public health officials.
"So we've been very clear that in order to keep transit running, passengers need to do their part, which is wear a mask," he said.
And if authorities hear about routes with low-compliance rates, Henderson said they will remind passengers about the importance of wearing masks.
Despite signs letting people know of the mask rule, passengers are not prevented from boarding the bus unmasked.
Henderson said exemptions exist for children under the age of two and for those with medical conditions.
"And we can't necessarily identify those that fall into that category. So we continue to push the messaging that people need to do their part to keep the buses running and that means simply wearing their mask."
He said officials have heard about incidents of other passengers calling out people not wearing masks on the bus. In some cases, he said, people who are challenged quickly produced a mask and put it on. He suspects people are still trying to figure out what is required.
Henderson said future service levels will be dictated by compliance.
"If compliance stays high like it is, we're hopeful that in the coming weeks, we'll be able to assess where we're at and if it stays high, we'll be able to look at future service level increases because we're not still a full service."
If compliance is poor, service and passenger levels could return to those in place before last week.
Signs are posted at bus stops and on the doors of buses to remind passengers to wear masks. To further promote physical distancing, most aisle seats are blocked off and passengers are encouraged to use the window seats.
The two seats directly behind the bus drivers will remain blocked off.
The three transit services collaborated to create a unified operational plan to ease some of the restrictions that have been in place since mid-March.
The plan, created in partnership with each municipality, transit system and the respective municipal emergency command centres, addresses service level changes while meeting provincial COVID-19 requirements, according to a statement issued last month.
Fredericton tracks compliance
Transportation officials from Fredericton are monitoring compliance but did not provide statistics.
"Initial observations indicate compliance is good, however, we plan to monitor mask usage for a full week of transit service before releasing any numbers," explained Meredith Gilbert, manager of transit and parking services for the City of Fredericton.
"We are thankful to passengers who are wearing masks because 'wearing is caring' and passenger use of masks will allow for further increases in passenger capacity on buses," said Gilbert, in an emailed response sent late Friday afternoon.
Despite requests, officials from Saint John did not respond on Friday.