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MTA Targets Transit Mask Evaders With Fines Under Cuomo Order

Cheeky signage in the subways, here at the Utica Ave. station, illustrates how to properly cover your mouth and nose.
Cheeky signage in the subways, seen here at the Utica Ave. station, illustrates how to properly cover your mouth and nose.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Commuters who refuse to cover their faces on trains and buses will soon pay a price for going maskless in the transit system.

Starting Monday, the MTA said, riders will be subject to a $50 fine if they don’t cover up on the subway, buses or commuter railroads. That’s a bit more than the cost of 18 single rides.

The penalties announced Thursday followed an order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to boost mask-wearing compliance among commuters. It also came after THE CITY this week highlighted how almost a quarter of the nearly 300 riders spot-checked on 15 bus routes citywide wore masks improperly or not at all.

“Hit them with a $200 fine — you got too many people around here who don’t cover their faces at all,” said Aron Guzman, 56, who was properly wearing a mask on the platform at the 96th St. stop on the 1/2/3 lines. “Maybe people will learn the hard way when they get fined.”

Cuomo issued an executive order in mid-April that made mask-wearing a requirement in public during the pandemic, including in the transit system. The MTA’s own surveys of subway and bus riders show that 93% of riders are wearing masks, with 15% of those covering their faces incorrectly.

“While mask compliance in the MTA system remains very high, we want to make sure that people feel comfortable coming back to public transportation,” Cuomo said.

The percentage of commuters properly wearing masks topped 90% on just two of the 15 bus routes spot-checked by THE CITY. On one Queens bus, barely a third of the riders fully covered their noses and mouths.

“My question is how they will enforce this,” said Rebecca Almonte, 26, who caught a No. 1 train at 125th Street. “But it’s important to enforce because it’s not fair to older people when someone in the subway isn’t wearing a mask.”

Transit Employees Exposed

The MTA said enforcement will be left to NYPD and MTA police officers — and not to frontline transit workers. More than 130 MTA workers have died from COVID-19, and Transport Workers Union Local 100 had, for months, been pushing for fines for unmasked riders.

“We recognize that a fine could be a hardship for some,” said Tony Utano, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100. “You know what’s harder? Going to a funeral because someone didn’t wear a mask on the bus or train.”

Transit workers have repeatedly been assaulted by riders who refuse to cover their faces.

THE CITY reported in July that, since the mid-April mask mandate, there had been more than 400 incidents in which transit workers were spit on or harassed by riders — with 76 of them tied directly to riders who became enraged at having to cover their faces.

Incidents continue: On Sept. 4, a man angered by some maskless passengers on a Madison Avenue bus spit in the driver’s face, according to the MTA.

“The fine is a last-resort measure for those who refuse to comply,” said Sarah Feinberg, interim president of New York City Transit. “It’s critical that every customer does their part to keep our system safe.”

Straphangers said the mask-wearing message has not sunk in yet with some riders, despite signs and announcements on trains and buses urging passengers to cover their faces. The MTA also provides masks in stations and on some bus routes.

“I always carry extra masks with me,” said Lissett Roman, who was waiting for an M79 bus on West 79th Street. “I don’t want to end up on the bus next to someone not wearing one.”

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