fb-pixel

Can I ride the MBTA without a mask? Starting next Wednesday, the answer is no

But the transit agency has not said how it will implement or enforce the governor’s new mandate.

A woman waits for a ride at the MBTA Government Center station in Boston.
A woman waits for a ride at the MBTA Government Center station in Boston.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Take off your backpack. Don’t play loud music through your phone. Try not to crowd near the doors.

And now: wear a mask.

MBTA riders will be required to cover their faces as part of Governor Charlie Baker’s latest executive order responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The order mandates masks and face coverings in most public settings starting May 6, and specifically names public transit vehicles and stations, as well as ride-hail, taxi, and limo services.

Until now, the MBTA has been encouraging but not requiring masks, and most of the few riders still onboard have seemingly followed the guidance. But now it is the rule of the rails.

Advertisement



The MBTA did not directly respond to questions Friday about how the order will be enforced on trains and buses.

"The MBTA expects all customers and employees to comply with the governor’s directive mandating face coverings," spokesman Joe Pesaturo said. “We are evaluating what steps the MBTA can take to insure that this important directive is followed.”

In a tweet, the T said “face coverings include, but are not limited to: scarves, bandannas, dust masks, and disposable masks.”

The agency has formed an internal working group to plot out service as commuters return to work. In a video message distributed on social media Friday, general manager Steve Poftak said “we don’t have a clear answer yet” about how to run future service.

Baker’s mask edict was welcomed by the union representing MBTA drivers and operators.

"We know how difficult it is to maintain social distancing on public transportation. This was the right decision for all of us,” the Boston Carmen’s Union said in a statement.

Jarred Johnson, director of the advocacy group Transit Matters, said he supports a mask mandate, but worried enforcement could be overly harsh toward people who are not aware of the guidance or cannot find or afford masks — most likely to be low-income or minority riders. Mask requirements for transit riders in Philadelphia, he noted, led to viral videos such as one showing one rider being forcibly dragged off a bus, prompting the agency to drop the mandate and instead simply encourage the wearing of masks.

Advertisement



To prevent those problems, Johnson said the T must either allow a wide range of facial coverings, including the neckline of a shirt, or distribute masks in stations, as transit authorities are doing in Madrid.

“It makes sense you’d want to have masks on the inside of a train,” Johnson said. “But enforcement and availability are the really key things here.”

The T has implemented some safety measures during the immediate response to the virus, such as requiring bus passengers to board through rear doors. But Baker on Friday said the mask requirement would be part of a “new normal” — indicating it may stick in the recovery stage of the crisis.

Public health and transportation specialists say agencies will need to implement several other measures for that period. Those ideas include running more frequent service to keep crowds down on vehicles and finding other ways to encourage social distancing.

The rules will also impact the state’s other regional transit agencies; previously, the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority said it would not require masks but that it was providing them to passengers on buses.

Advertisement




Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.