Across the region, vaccinated people are taking off their masks and savoring a long-awaited return to normalcy. But that freedom does not extend to trips on the MBTA, where all riders, vaccinated or not, must still wear face coverings.
But as has been true throughout the pandemic, mask scofflaws aren’t hard to spot, especially with the year-long habit starting to fray.
“It’s that 10 percent that you can just tell that they are not going to wear masks,” said Joe Cabrera, a graphic designer from Dorchester who commutes daily to work on the T. “I think the bigger problem is just people wearing them wrong. There’s a lot of people that, just, it’s on their chin or just on the mouth. No one covers their nose.”
When Cabrera, 58, notices passengers without face coverings, he tries to distance himself, even at the risk of offending them.
“Once I saw these three people, no masks, get on the train right in front of me and sat across from me,” he recalled. “When I got up and changed my seat, they got really upset. And I’m like, ‘You’re not wearing a mask? What do you want me to do?’”
MBTA and commuter rail passengers are required to wear masks in train cars and stations, according to federal guidelines.
Since the mask mandate went into effect in May 2020, the transit system has seen “great compliance from riders,” a spokesman said. On a recent morning commute, the vast majority of people were wearing masks, although passengers said they had seen several people violating the rule.
“I almost always see people with their masks behind their nose... people with it on their chin,” said Lila Rutishauser, 20, “which is honestly why I don’t take the T a lot.”
Rutishauser has worked at a nursery school in Boston for a year and tried to limit her time riding the train, especially before she was vaccinated.
The MBTA remains far emptier than usual. In May, weekday ridership was down nearly 70 percent from May 2019, according to statistics released on Monday.
Anaika Alegria-Cabral, 24, said she has seen a relatively high level of mask-wearing on her commute to downtown Boston, where she works at a law firm. She said she had twice seen a transit officer hold a train to urge scofflaws to wear their masks, though she doesn’t “take it personally” when riders don’t.
“I know a lot of people are getting their vaccines, so I try to be understanding,” she said.
It’s not clear how strictly the mandate is enforced across the system, but MBTA employees have typically chosen to remind people of the rule and hand out masks rather than levy fines. Transit police did not issue a single citation during the time when riders could be given tickets for violating mask rules, the agency said.
Some officials and longtime riders say the MBTA should do more to protect unvaccinated riders and their employees. Benjamin Bloomenthal, 46, a former MBTA employee who represents Acton on the MBTA advisory board, said that MBTA leaders “are not doing enough to ensure that riders are properly and sufficiently masking up.”
Since the mask mandate on public transportation will continue for some time, it should be the responsibility of transit ambassadors, contract employees who work as customer service representatives in stations, to confirm riders are wearing masks, Bloomenthal said. Transit ambassadors are currently providing face masks for people at stations, the MBTA said.
Still, compliance varies. On the Red Line this week, one rider wore two masks, while two passengers sitting nearby wore none.
Alexandra Chaidez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.