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LA Metro Is Now Requiring Masks On Its System, But Enforcement Is ‘A Work In Progress’

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority discussed federal funding, the one-bag policy and more during Thursday's meeting. (Courtesy Adrian Hernandez/LA Metro)
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Starting today, riders on Los Angeles County’s transit system are required to wear masks or other protective face coverings.

If you’re thinking: Wait, haven’t people been required to wear face coverings while out in public for weeks now?

Yes, county health officials issued that order in mid-April as a way to limit the spread of COVID-19. But until now, the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Agency had only been recommending people wear face coverings on its system.

Why the delay? Metro officials cited a few reasons, including “civil liberties issues” and uncertainty over who would enforce the rule — and how.

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“We don’t want to put our bus operators in harm’s way. Nor do we want to put our law enforcement officers in an untenable position where confrontations with riders escalate — as we’ve seen happen in other cities,” Metro officials wrote on the agency’s news blog.

An incident in Philadelphia last month made headlines after police there dragged a man off a bus for not wearing a mask, as was required under a local transit policy. After video of the encounter spread online, the policy was rescinded.

Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero later told me what happened in Philadelphia was “a good example of what we’re trying to avoid.”

Agency officials did not elaborate on how they will ensure riders are following the rule, only saying they “will enforce this requirement to the extent that is practical.” Metro CEO Phillip Washington said in a news release that “Enforcement of this new requirement will be a work in progress.”

“As we prepare to restore bus and rail service that has been reduced due to the COVID-19 crisis, we want transit to be as safe as possible,” he said.

A mix of LAPD and county sheriff’s deputies patrol the system, along with Metro’s own security staff and contracted guards. But there’s less of a presence aboard Metro’s bus fleet, where bus operators are often the sole authority.

Agency officials said last week that 58 Metro workers have tested positive for COVID-19 — and 16 were bus operators.

L.A. Metro has taken some steps to add protections for its bus operators, including instituting rear-door boarding and installing plexiglass to shield drivers. But some bus operators have been voicing their fears about driving passengers who are not following public health orders and riding without face coverings.

The agency is launching an educational campaign to alert riders to its updated policy. Metro is also “looking at ways the agency can help riders obtain face coverings while protecting our own supply of coverings that are needed for our employees.”

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