Port Authority Must Reinstate Mask Requirements for Rider and Worker Safety

Image Description: An older woman wearing black glasses, a surgical mask and a flowery dress, holding a black handbag is walking away from a red Port Authority bus with its door open with a passenger boarding.

We condemn the irresponsible decision by the Port Authority of Allegheny County to stop enforcing mask-wearing on public transit, following the Florida court ruling yesterday regarding the CDC mandate. The decision by PAAC comes as COVID-19 cases are rising in Allegheny County and nationwide due to a new and more transmissible strain of Omicron. Transit agencies including Chicago’s CTA and Portland’s TriMet (…and NYC’s MTA, San Fran’s Muni, BART and SFMTA, Denver RTD, Caltrain, AC Transit, Seattle’s King County Metro and Sound Transit, and Kitsap Transit…) have elected to continue local requirements and enforcement for mask-wearing despite this latest challenge to federal CDC directives. PPT is calling on the Port Authority to immediately pass and enforce its own transit rider and worker mask requirements, because the agency has an obligation and has stated its intention to make its facilities safe for all users.

Requiring masks for all riders and workers is critical to ensuring that public transit is safe and accessible. Mask-wearing has been shown to be effective only when it is universally adopted, and not solely by those who elect “to wear masks for their own comfort and safety.” Many people with disabilities, including those who are immunocompromised, rely on public transit to access essential services. Without a mask requirement and enforcement, these riders must compromise their health in order to go to the doctor, to buy fresh food, to visit with family and more. Children under 5 years old are still unable to access the vaccine.

 “The decision to stop enforcing mask usage on buses doesn’t consider people like me, who are immuno-compromised. This latest COVID-19 variant is more transmissible than any other we’ve seen, and people are still getting sick and dying from the virus. Port Authority’s choice makes me afraid to ride,” says bus rider and PPT Board Chair, Verna Johnson

This decision acts in stark opposition to the agency’s goals around the worker vaccine mandate, which stressed their commitment “to promot[ing] the health, wellness and safety of Port Authority’s workforce… and the riding public.” (from Port Authority’s Jan 10, 2022 news release) The Port Authority’s catastrophic rollout of the transit worker vaccine mandate has caused weeks of unsafe, overcrowded buses and transit riders left waiting at the stop, as hundreds of experienced transit workers were put on disciplinary leave. The rollback of the mask mandate will likely lead to even worse transit service: in the UK, the lifting of mask requirements in public spaces recently led to a significant increase in illnesses among airline employees and the abrupt cancellations of hundreds of flights.  

Pittsburghers for Public Transit will be holding a rally downtown at 1 pm this Friday, April 22nd to highlight how transit service is linked to survival for both individuals and our broader community, to demand service improvements, and to insist on increased safety for transit riders and workers.