Metro won’t strictly enforce new COVID-19 mask mandate

As federal transportation officials consider how to enforce President Joe Biden’s new face mask requirement for interstate travelers, Metro riders have wondered whether the executive order will dramatically affect the number of maskless bus and rail passengers on the Metro system.

Probably not, said Paul Weidefeld, general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, during a Thursday meeting of the Metro Board.

“We do not have operators confront customers,” Weidefeld said when asked to describe what the agency’s stance would be on enforcing Biden’s executive order, which was issued one week ago.

Weidefeld said while bus drivers are allowed to ask a maskless passenger to put on a face covering before boarding a bus, bus and rail operators won’t be tasked with enforcing the mask mandate.

“Similar to fare evasion issues, our experience has been that elevates to other issues very quickly,” Weidefeld said.

As with fare issues, mask violations will be referred to Metro Transit Police.

Weidefeld acknowledged that in some cases people, whether they’re riding mass transit or sitting in a restaurant, don’t follow mask rules.

“It’s not acceptable,” Weidefeld said. “There’s a certain segment that unfortunately don’t abide by the rules.”

Instead of focusing on enforcement, Weidefeld plans to appeal to those who wear masks.

“It’s more important that everyone buys into what needs to be done here, as we get through these next few months,” Weidefeld said. “This is a community obligation.”

Stephanie Gidigibi, first vice chair of the board, representing the District of Columbia, agreed that positive reinforcement will carry more weight: “Ensuring we’re thanking those who have been wearing their masks, and encouraging others to do the same.”

While federal transportation officials contemplate how to enforce Biden’s executive order for different types of travel such as trains, buses, airplanes, public transportation and ferries, Gidigibi was clear: “Across the country, placing that burden on the transit systems is a very hard responsibility, and so we hope that folks will comply and just do their part in ensuring that Metro is safe for all of us.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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