It used to be that people would get aggravated with fellow MBTA passengers who didn’t pop in headphones when listening to music on public transportation, or stood like immovable statues while wearing a bulging backpack on board.
Now, in the time of the coronavirus, a new group of riders has become the focus of sneers and complaints: those who refuse to wear masks on the T’s buses and trains.
With T ridership increasing slightly as people begin to emerge, passengers have been directing gripes at the transit agency over both strap-hangers and employees who have reportedly disregarded the state’s guidelines on face coverings in public.
“Where are your watchers? 7 young men just got off #blueline at Orient Heights WITH NO MASKS,” one passenger tweeted to the T this week. “Saw them as they passed my car. Not one. Not 2 but SEVEN!!!!”
Another person wrote, “Lots of folks with no masks on the Orange Line — so much for enforcement.”
According to the MBTA, riders and employees are required to cover their faces when taking the T, in accordance with an executive order signed by Governor Charlie Baker in May.
During a press conference Thursday about the state’s latest COVID-19 cases, Baker said the order will remain in place “until we don’t have an emergency.”
But an exemption allows for people with certain health issues to forgo wearing a mask, and “[T] employees cannot ask anyone about the nature of their conditions,” according to recent tweets from the agency’s Twitter account.
Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the MBTA, said in a statement that although T employees can remind riders of the governor’s executive order, “the MBTA does not ask riders to provide proof of a medical reason for not complying with the mandate.”
Transit officials have also said the agency won’t refuse rides to people who aren’t wearing face masks, a stance that the president of the Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589, which represents the agency’s bus and subway drivers, has called concerning.
Although the T has taken steps to enhance safety at stations and on vehicles, the apparent lack of enforcement and passenger compliance has left some people flustered. And it’s turned complaints once reserved for those who took up two seats on a train into grievances about mask scofflaws.
Victoria Kroeger, who recently returned to her retail job in the Back Bay, said more and more people have been boarding the trains she has been on without wearing masks. It has led the 25-year-old to adopt a new method to protect herself on the T: hopping between vehicles.
“What I’ve been doing as a rider whenever I see people not wearing a mask is I’ve been getting off in between stations and running to the next car, hoping the people on the new car will all be wearing their masks,” she said.
Her tipping point came one day this week, she said, when a maskless man boarded her crowded Orange Line train and sat down directly across from her. She moved. But later, she reached out to the T to vent.
“I got fed up a few days ago and tweeted the MBTA, asking what enforcement is being done,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a wild thing to assume quite a few people who are not wearing masks aren’t doing it because they physically can’t — they’re actively choosing not to wear a mask just because they don’t want to.”
She said she is frustrated with how the MBTA has refused to handle the situation.
Lisa Groop, a registered nurse, got a double-dose of MBTA woes this week: a delayed Red Line train, and a maskless passenger.
“A guy was chatting away on his phone, carrying on a big conversation without a mask,” Groop said. “I would never dare say anything, but I got up and left. And then other people got on either with a mask on or using it as a chin guard. I find that very concerning.”
During her morning commute, Jacqueline Mosko, a research technician at Mass. General Hospital, has also noticed some riders with bare faces.
“I would say probably 60 percent of people are wearing masks, mostly incorrectly,” she said. “I’ve shared knowing glances with other people.”
Mosko said on Thursday, an entire family — “none of them wearing masks” — got on a train and sat in a cordoned-off section meant to give space to the train’s operator.
“I think everybody felt a little uncomfortable,” she said in a phone interview. “The train was very crowded.”
When she reached out to the MBTA on Twitter, she received a blanket statement about the state’s exemption for people with medical conditions, and how employees won’t refuse service to those without a face covering.
“I kind of rolled my eyes when they sent that back to me,” she said, “because it really dismisses the intention and the potential safety regulation of the mask rule when nobody is enforcing it.”
“Every single train or bus I take either ends up with one of their employees or a giant group of people not wearing masks. How is this safe???,” one person tweeted Thursday.
Pesaturo said officials will investigate any complaints they receive about the issue.
“If it is determined that an employee was not in compliance with the order, management will reinstruct the employee on the proper use of a face covering and that the mandate is not optional,” he said.