In the midst of concerns about possible ramifications from mask enforcement, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), is reportedly looking into implementing mask-only vehicles.
Metrorail, Metrobus, and MetroAccess made masks mandatory in April after a Trump-appointed federal judge ruled that the federal mask rule of the Biden administration was illegal. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), therefore, suspended enforcement.
Paul J. Wiedefeld, General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of the company, stated that “our mask mandate was based on federal guidance”.
He said, “We will continue monitoring this situation as it unfolds. But masks will remain optional on Metro property up until further notice.”
WMATA Chief Safety Officer Theresa Impastato confirmed that WMATA is investigating the possibility of a mask-only vehicle during a Thursday board meeting.
Impastato answered the question, “That’s something we’re actively considering.”
She said that she had spoken to New Jersey Transit officials and benchmarked them on the matter. They are also interested in a mask-only option.
She stated that there are concerns about the enforcement of the mask-only vehicle and how it could create conflict among customers. “The Amtrak quiet car has a long history of conflict with other passengers.”
According to DCist safety remains the main concern as officials wrestle with the fear of such enforcement leading to an increase in violence or assault.
WMATA has to balance safety and health concerns. As of the current fiscal year, Metrorail employees have an injury rate of 3.7 per 100, while Metrobus employees have an injury rate of 13 per 100. One-third of all injuries are caused by threats and assaults. Impastato stated that injuries among Metrorail workers were especially high during winter months when many employees were sick with COVID-19, and because more Metrorail employees reported working overtime.
Although there are no state-level mask mandates and the federal mandate for travelers has been lifted by the Biden administration, it is not clear that mask rules have been eliminated.