New York to issue $50 fines to commuters refusing to wear masks on trains, buses

Robert Brodsky and Newsday Staff

September 10, 2020

Originally published in Newsday on September 10, 2020.

New York State will begin issuing $50 fines to passengers of the Long Island Rail Road and city subway and bus systems who refuse to wear a mask to prevent spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Metropolitan Transportation Authority leaders said Thursday.

The rule, which goes into effect Monday, is designed to increase compliance with the state's mandatory mask rule on the region's public transportation, while providing a level of assurance to commuters that the transit system is safe.

"We have to be able to say to the riding public, 'Yes, everyone will be wearing masks,' " Cuomo said in a conference call with reporters. "If they don't have a mask, the MTA will give them a mask to wear. If they refuse to wear a mask, they will be evicted from the system."

The governor's office said noncompliant passengers also would be told to leave buses or trains.

Pat Foye, chairman of the MTA, which oversees train and bus service in New York City, Long Island and suburbs north of the city, said compliance with the state's mask order is more than 90% on the LIRR and 96% on city buses.

"Achieving universal mask compliance is our goal. … It's a matter of respect for one's co-commuters and MTA employees," said Foye, adding that the MTA has distributed 4 million masks across its system.

Sarah Feinberg, interim president of New York City Transit, said if commuters forget their masks or one breaks, they will be available for free at subway booths and from conductors and police on buses and the railroad.

Enforcement of the new rule, officials said, will be conducted by the MTA Police, NYPD and Bridge and Tunnel officers, and will not focus on riders wearing a mask incorrectly.

Anthony Simon, general chairman of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers, the LIRR’s largest union, said the fine "may be helpful in ensuring compliance as long as there are ample resources in place to actually enforce it. If the MTA is unable to police and enforce this fine, all it does is put front-line workers on the train at further risk of abuse."

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who has raised concerns with MTA officials about some LIRR commuters not complying with the mask policy, said "there’s no excuse not to wear a mask. And if you’re just going to decide that you’re not going to wear one, then you shouldn’t be on a public commuter rail.”