Masks now mandatory on OC Transpo

The new rules are in effect as of Monday morning, and city staff will be handing out some 200,000 free masks over the coming days.

There will be no fines issued, only education

Mayor Jim Watson hands out a free mask to a woman at Tunney's Pasture station on June 14, 2020, one day before mask use becomes mandatory throughout Ottawa's transit system. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

It's now mandatory for OC Transpo riders and workers to wear masks, under new rules that went into effect Monday morning.

Ottawa is the first Canadian city to introduce such a policy during the COVID-19 pandemic, and masks will be given away for free during the first week.

Mayor Jim Watson started that blitz Sunday at Tunney's Pasture station.

"We'll have 200,000 masks for the first couple of weeks, but that supply will run out quickly," said Watson, encouraging people who can to purchase their own. 

"There will [also] be certain social agencies that will be able to provide them free of charge for those people who are financially challenged."

Some question timing

At the station Sunday, many passengers were not only already wearing masks, but were also happy with the move to make them mandatory.

Some, however, wondered why it took so long for the city to introduce the new rule.

"I think it was a good idea," said Eric Pusey.  "If they could have implemented it earlier, I think it would have been better to to help curb the spread more."

Riders step into and off of a train at Tunney's Pasture LRT station on June 14, 2020. Many riders were already wearing masks Sunday, one day before a new mandatory mask policy went into effect. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

Watson said that at the beginning of the pandemic, overcrowding wasn't an issue on transit since ridership had dropped by more than 90 percent. 

"Now that we're into Phase 2 and more restaurants and barber shops and services are open, more people will be using the bus or the train," Watson said.

"It'll be a lot more difficult to socially distance. So we thought this was the appropriate time."

No fines for now

The "mandatory" part of the initiative, however, isn't being enforced by the city.

Instead of fining riders who break the rules, the city is trying to educate those who aren't wearing masks — a tactic one transit advocate doesn't agree with.

"I think masks should be mandatory on buses, no ifs ands or buts," said John Redins, board member of the Ottawa Transit Riders advocacy group.

Redins said a no mask, no ride policy would work better, with exceptions in place for those who have a condition that prevent them from wearing one.

"It's all voluntary. So we'll see how it goes," he said.


Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.