Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Bus Passengers May Face Mask Mandate

County committee okays policy and full board likely to agree, could be in place August 1.

By - Jul 8th, 2020 02:46 pm
Essential trips only on MCTS buses. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Essential trips only on MCTS buses. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A Milwaukee County Board Committee unanimously approved a new face covering mandate for all Milwaukee County Transit System buses Wednesday

The resolution authored by Supervisor Ryan Clancy, amends an existing executive order from the County Executive’s office. If approved by the board, it would make face coverings mandatory on transit system (MCTS) buses beginning Aug. 1, with exceptions for those with medical conditions that prohibit mask wearing and for children 6 years old or younger.

The goal of the resolution is to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Milwaukee County, as the virus spikes here and across the country.

Along with making face coverings mandatory, the resolution also directs MCTS to provide disposable, single-use masks to the public when they don’t have one.

Under current county policy, bus operators are already required to wear a face mask whenever they are within six feet of the public. But the transit system has only strongly recommended that the public wear face masks while riding buses.

Earlier in the pandemic, the union representing transit workers blasted the policy. The Amalgamated Transit Union 998 released a statement in May saying they believed all passengers should be required to wear a mask just as the operators are.

Previously, Dan Boehm, managing director of MCTS, said he was wary of a face covering requirement, largely because of the issues enforcement would pose.

“Initially I didn’t want to put bus operators in the position of having to dwell at the fair box… talking to passengers about why they need to wear a mask,” he said. And on top of that, handing a passenger a mask increases the potential for close contact “that could be avoided.”

In May, Boehm told the board that he was concerned that enforcing the policy could lead to escalations where a transit security officer may end up “dragging somebody out of the back door of a bus because they weren’t wearing a mask,” which has happened in other transit systems that instituted a mask policy.

But Boehm told the board’s Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee Wednesday that he feels “better about our potential for safely distributing masks on buses in the future.” The county’s Department of Transportation is working on a mask dispenser that would allow the transit system to distribute masks without bus drivers being physically involved.

Boehm said the transit system has already handed out “tens of thousands of masks” and it will continue to do so.

Assuming the policy change is passed by the board, Boehm said the transit system will have a significant communication task ahead in educating riders about the new policy.

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One thought on “MKE County: Bus Passengers May Face Mask Mandate”

  1. Maddiem says:

    I don’t think Dir. Boehm’s fears are necessary.
    I ride the bus daily, often WI Ave. or 27th St., Bus riders are generally a passive group quietly waiting to get to their stop.
    I imagine if they were told that had to wear a mask to ride, and given one, they would smile and sat “Thank you!” I doubt anyone would risk not riding on the bus over a mask.
    As it is, I see 1/2 to 3/4 of riders wearing masks voluntarily.
    And no one has confronted another about wearing/ not wearing a mask on any of the 100’s of bus rides I’ve taken in the past months.
    Also, not only are the bus drivers highly skilled behind the wheel, they’re very good at knowing how to manage their riders, through practice and experience.
    Finally, the health of our community has to be a highest level priority.
    Thank you.

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