By Michael G. Stogner
NO MASK NO RIDE NO MASK NO DRIVE
Fire who ever approved the SOFT APPROACH to enforcing masks.
Send drivers home who don’t wear masks. Mike Levinson, chair of the San Mateo County Paratransit Coordinating Council, during the meeting said SamTrans bus drivers themselves are not always wearing masks.
A SamTrans board member and others called for stricter enforcement of face coverings aboard buses at a meeting Wednesday.
While masks are currently required when in public, SamTrans has been taking a “soft approach” to enforcing the rule on its buses, said Chief Operating Officer David Olmeda during the meeting.
SamTrans Board Member Charles Stone, also Belmont vice mayor, wants that to change.
“Morally I think we have an obligation to institute a mandatory face covering rule as soon as possible,” Stone said. “I think we have to abandon the soft approach and go with a much stricter approach.
“No one should be getting on our buses without a face covering,” he continued. “It’s not just about the health and safety of other riders. It’s about the health and safety of our operators as well.”
Olmeda said the “soft approach” to enforcement was implemented to avoid altercations between bus drivers and defiant riders.
“One of the things we’ve learned from other transit agencies is when we take a very hard line or depend on the operators to take a hard line we increase the opportunity to get aggression and have problems on board our vehicles,” Olmeda said. “We’ve taken a softer approach because quite frankly at this point in time everyone understands in society that masks are required.”
Instead of having drivers enforce the mask requirement, automatic messages and signs on buses “encourage” the use of face coverings, Olmeda said.
Stone argued that managing insolent riders is part of the bus driver’s job description, adding the agency’s drivers are up to the task.
“I’m certainly sensitive to the fact that we don’t necessarily want our operators to have to deal with the unpleasant situation if someone doesn’t want to wear a face covering, however, I know our operators are really good at dealing with difficult customers already. They’re fantastic about that,” he said. “You have to be able to deal with folks who are not necessarily listening to you when you tell them don’t come over the line or sit down while the bus is in motion. … I think they can handle this.”
Mike Levinson, chair of the San Mateo County Paratransit Coordinating Council, during the meeting said SamTrans bus drivers themselves are not always wearing masks.
“We’ve had a couple of complaints from riders that drivers on Redi-Wheels have not had masks and they’re assisting people with wheelchairs and seat belts,” he said. “I completely agree with [Stone’s] sentiments.”
Officials did not indicate whether the SamTrans’ mask enforcement policy will change in the near future, but Olmeda said the agency is currently exploring whether to store masks on buses so they can be given to riders who don’t have them.
During the meeting, officials said a blend of local and school service will be restored by August. Certain bus lines including the Route ECR that services El Camino Real as well as 23 community routes in low-income areas will return to preCOVID-19 service levels, though other routes will be suspended. Suspended routes include the SFO, which services the airport, and FCX, which travels between Foster City and San Francisco, as well as 15 community routes.
Officials also noted average weekday ridership on SamTrans has been increasing 6% to 8% week over week over the past three weeks.