As Texas loosens its COVID restrictions, the state’s transit agencies are still taking measures to ensure employee and passenger safety with the enforcement of the federal mask mandate on public transit and enhanced cleaning and service efforts.
On March 2, Gov. Gregg Abbott announced that he would be easing the state’s restrictions meant to prevent the spread of COVID by getting rid of the state’s mask requirement and opening up businesses to full capacity due to a decrease in hospitalizations and positive COVID cases.
The announcement brought about immediate responses from several Texas transit agencies, including Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA) and Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), which both confirmed that they would continue to enforce federal guidelines and require a CDC-approved face mask to be worn by all passengers and operators on all vehicles and at all transit facilities. Passengers who refuse to do so, could be subject to denial of boarding or removal, and possibly federal penalties.
“Our number one priority for our agency is safety, and we’re committed to serving our many communities with specific safety protocols in place, such as requiring masks while riding and at agency facilities and platforms/bus stops, social distancing, practicing safe hand hygiene, and more,” says Adrienne Hamilton, DCTA’s sr. marketing and communications manager.
“We are very fortunate that both our passengers and employees have the seen the importance of wearing face masks while utilizing public transit,” adds Gordon Shattles, DART’s director, external relations. “We hear from passengers every day who thank us for taking and maintaining the appropriate precautions to keep them safe.”
Since the state’s mask mandate was lifted on March 10, DART and DCTA have continued to focus their efforts on bringing ridership back to pre-COVID levels with greater cleaning and service efforts — some of which have included offering complimentary masks to passengers, installing hand sanitizer dispensers on board all vehicles, and conducting daily (sometimes hourly) cleanings of vehicles and facilities.
Additionally, if a DART passenger is concerned with someone not wearing a mask, they can contact DART Customer Service, or use the "DART Say Something" app, which can be downloaded from the Apple Store or Google Play for free.
So far, neither agency has reported any increases in mask violations since the state mandate was lifted. The agencies also have not required the use of additional security officers to enforce the federal mask mandate as ridership picks back up.
“At this time, it’s too early for us at DCTA to confirm if the lifted state mandate has affected ridership,” Hamilton says. “However, we diligently track ridership on all our services and are monitoring for this in the upcoming weeks and months.”
DCTA transported roughly 1.6 million passengers systemwide in FY 20, a 44% decrease from almost 2.8 million passengers in FY 19. Ridership decreased drastically in the second half of FY 20 as a result of the pandemic, stay-at-home orders, and mandatory closures of non-essential businesses.
Meanwhile, at DART, Shattles says the agency’s ridership is “rising steadily” as more businesses return, especially to the downtown Dallas area. He also says the agency expects the vaccine rollout to play a key role in bringing more passengers back on board.