Toronto to make face coverings mandatory on public transit, will hand out 1M masks to riders
City says it will focus on education rather than enforcement of the new rule
Toronto plans to make face coverings mandatory on its public transit system, a rule that could go into effect starting July 2.
Mayor John Tory announced the updated regulations for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) on Thursday.
"This will help to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our city," Tory said.
"As the restart and reopening begins, we know that more people will be back on the TTC… at the same time, physical distancing will become a greater and greater challenge."
The TTC board will need to approve the recommendation at its meeting next week, though TTC CEO Rick Leary has already said he supports the plan.
"I want to make sure people know our system is safe for both customers and employees," Leary said.
Toronto also announced on Thursday a plan to give out one million non-medical masks to transit users, with a focus on low-income and marginalized communities.
WATCH | Toronto Mayor John Tory announces face coverings will be mandatory on public transit:
The TTC says it plans to launch an extensive education campaign to inform riders about the new rule. Tory said enforcement will not be a priority, though he suggested riders could face fines in certain circumstances.
"We don't believe strict enforcement is necessary," Leary added.
There will be some exemptions to the rule, including children under the age of two and people with medical conditions.
The TTC says between 50 and 60 per cent of its riders are already using face coverings on the transit system.
ATU Local 113, which represents Toronto's transit workers, had been calling for mandatory face coverings since early May.
"Implementing this policy will protect workers and riders alike and is the right thing to do to further prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our communities," said president Carlos Santos in a statement Thursday.
Toronto expecting riders to return soon
The TTC and GO Transit, which serves commuters across the GTA, have both reduced service during the pandemic. However, as more businesses are allowed to reopen, pressure on those systems is growing.
Union Station, Toronto's central transit hub, has been expanding in recent years to keep up with demand. Before COVID-19 hit, some 250,000 people flowed through the downtown station every day.
Ridership on the TTC has plummeted to around 15 per cent of its typical levels during the pandemic, though Leary said the agency expects that figure to reach about 50 per cent as Toronto and the province continue reopening.
As ridership rebounds, the agency has warned that physical distancing will not be possible on its vehicles.
The provincial government recommended last month that face coverings be used by all people on public transit, though it did not make the advice mandatory.
Ottawa became the first Canadian city to make masks mandatory on its transit system on June 1. Like Toronto, Ottawa has signalled that it will not strictly enforce the rule.
Montreal has also announced a plan to distribute 1.5 million masks to riders by the fall, though using them will not be mandatory.
At least 956 people in Toronto have now died after contracting the novel coronavirus, while 328 remain in hospital, with 73 in intensive care as of Thursday.
Ontario, which has seen a downward trend in new COVID-19 cases this week, announced 203 new cases Thursday, the lowest daily total since late March.
For now, Toronto and the surrounding cities have been left out of the province's next phase of the plan to ease restrictions starting this Friday.