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Masks should be mandatory on L.A. Metro buses and trains, official says

Passengers, some without masks, ride the Line 33 bus last week. Metro asks riders to wear masks, but does not require them.
Passengers, some without masks, ride the Line 33 bus last week. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is asking riders to wear masks, but does not require them.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

A face mask should be mandatory for anyone who wants to board a bus or train in Los Angeles County during the coronavirus outbreak, a county official said Monday.

Allowing passengers without face coverings to ride on Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses “threatens to compound the spread” of coronavirus because workers at grocery stores, restaurants and other essential businesses rely on public transportation, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a letter Monday.

Hahn, who is also a Metro director, said that Los Angeles County is requiring customers to wear face coverings while visiting essential businesses. Transportation is an essential service too, she said, and should have the same requirements.

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Hahn’s letter to Metro Chief Executive Phil Washington cited a Times story on bus drivers, who said they feared for their health because many riders were not wearing masks and bus yards faced periodic shortages of masks, hand sanitizer and other protective gear.

“If I come to work, am I going to catch it today? Will I catch it tomorrow? Will I catch it next week?” said a driver from a bus yard in Boyle Heights who was not authorized to speak publicly. “It’s always in the back of my head.”

Metro, the busiest bus network on the West Coast, has encouraged passengers to wear masks during the outbreak, but has stopped short of requiring them.

Allowing riders to board without masks “feels like a slap in the face,” said a driver who works in Chatsworth. “If you have to wear a mask to go to Target or the grocery store, you should also need to do that when you get on a bus. You’re in a small, confined space with other people.”

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Metro spokesman Dave Sotero said last week that enforcing a mask requirement on every bus in the county would be “physically impractical.”

If the policy were enacted and a rider were not carrying a face covering, Hahn would want Metro to provide one, spokeswoman Liz Odendahl said.

Metro passengers are now required to board through the back of the bus. Drivers have been told to close and fasten the clear plastic barrier that separates their seats from the fare box — but to accept any money that’s offered.

Rather than interact with strangers, most bus drivers said they’re waving away fares. Some are barricading the aisle leading to the fare box with bungee cords, twine or seat belts.

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Rather than impose a uniform policy on how many people are allowed in each bus, Metro has told drivers to use their discretion when picking up riders. That advice has “unfairly put the onus on bus operators to decide whether to allow passengers without face coverings on buses and to enforce social distancing,” Hahn wrote.

Hahn asked Washington to address the question before the May 28 meeting of the Metro board.

Washington received the letter and will discuss it Tuesday morning with senior agency officials, Sotero said.


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