The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is reportedly considering implementing mask-only cars, pending concerns over the possible ramifications of mask enforcement.
In April, Metrorail, Metrobus and MetroAccess made masks optional due to the ruling from a Trump-appointed federal judge in Florida, who deemed the Biden administration’s federal mask rule illegal. As a result, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) suspended enforcement.
“Our mask mandate has been based on federal guidance,” General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul J. Wiedefeld said at the time.
“We will continue to monitor this situation as it unfolds, but masks will be optional on Metro property until further notice,” he said.
But during a board meeting Thursday, Chief Safety Officer Theresa Impastato confirmed WMATA is looking into the possibility of a mask-only car.
When asked if such was being considered, Impastato said, “That is something that we’re actively looking into.”
“We’ve benchmarked and talked to New Jersey transit who are also looking into a mask only,” she said, explaining that they have some concerns over mask enforcement.
“We do have some concerns that have been identified around enforcement of the mask-only car and how that could potentially create conflict amongst our customers,” she said. “The quiet car [on Amtrak] has a pretty storied history of having some conflict there.”
According to DCist, safety concerns remain the primary issue as officials struggle with the fear that such enforcement would cause a rise in violence or assault:
WMATA is having to balance other several health and safety concerns. The injury rate for Metrorail employees is 3.7 per 100 people, and 13 per 100 people for Metrobus employees, as of the current fiscal year to date. Assaults and threats are the most common injury, accounting for one-third. Impastato said injuries among Metrorail employees were particularly high in the winter months, during a time when many were out sick with COVID-19 and those working reported more overtime.
“We believe it had a lot to do with mental health issues, where at one point customers were not getting their medicine, not getting their treatment they needed, and coming on board and that led to altercations not only with our bus operators but our customers,” Chief Operating Officer Joseph Leader said of the rise of assaults.
While no statewide mask mandates remain in place and travelers are no longer under the Biden administration’s federal mask mandate, mask rules have not been completely eradicated. Some school districts and cities have demonstrated that they are more than willing to put rules back in place over fears of a rise of the virus.