PPT’s Mask Distros Inspire Transit Rider Action Across the County

We’re excited that the national public transit think-tank, TransitCenter, choose to profile how Pittsburghers for Public Transit members were able to fundraise over $4,000 in 1-day, purchase thousands of masks, mobilize almost 50 volunteers to hand them out, and then organize over 100 people to turn out to our Transit Justice Townhall! What a lift!

This work would not be possible without all of the dozens and dozens of members who shared their time and funds to make it happen. Thank you PPT Members! Thank you TransitCenter!

From TransitCenter’s Blog: “Beyond Mandates: Advocates Mobilize to Give Riders Masks”

As evidence accumulates that wide-spread mask-wearing can reduce the spread of COVID-19, a growing number of transit systems are requiring riders to wear masks on board.

Several agencies, including New York’s MTA, Portland’s TriMet, and Richmond’s GRTC, are also providing masks directly to riders. This improves compliance and public health while deemphasizing policing and coercion. But currently, more agencies require masks than provide them.

Mask provision should be the responsibility of transit agencies, as well as local, state, and federal officials with the means to acquire masks in large quantities. To highlight the need for government action, advocates in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Durham, N.C. have stepped in to fill the gap by distributing masks to riders. These groups are also using mask giveaways as an occasion to organize riders to demand better transit service.

In April, Pittsburgh’s Port Authority began requiring that all riders wear masks while riding transit, in line with statewide public health guidelines. While the agency has since resumed normal service, including fare collection and front-door boarding, it has not provided masks for riders to comply with the order.

“Transit agencies need to ensure that all riders have personal protective equipment to safely ride the bus, so that riders don’t have to fear enforcement of mask-wearing, nor do they have to worry about contracting and spreading COVID,” said Pittsburghers for Public Transit (PPT) Executive Director Laura Wiens.

While Wiens believes it’s the Port Authority’s responsibility to provide masks, she says advocates can engage riders at mask giveaways. “Transit advocates can also take leadership and distribute reusable cloth masks at bus stops as an opportunity to survey and mobilize riders on issues like overcrowding on buses and affordable fares.”

To raise money for masks, PPT launched a crowdfunding campaign, the Transit Rider Mask Fund. In a single day, PPT members contributed $4,000, which purchased more than a thousand masks to distribute to riders.

PPT enlisted ten volunteers to distribute the masks at bus stops and speak with riders about problems ranging from lack of bus service, the unaffordability of fares, and inadequate state funding. PPT strategically prioritized this canvassing within the district of a state legislator who has been calling to defund public transit in Pennsylvania.

PPT parlayed the in-person encounters to more sustained engagement. “From our mask distribution, we were able to turn out more than a hundred riders to a transit town hall to discuss issues of service and transit funding during this pandemic,” says Wiens.