Bay Area transit agencies drop mask rules; BART considering reinstating mandate

Most transit agencies in the Bay Area are following behind airlines and dropping mask requirements.

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority is now strongly recommending masks, but they are not requiring them on light rail or buses.

Still, some transit agencies are wary of the change. For example BART's board of directors will consider a proposal to mandate masks on trains at its April 28 meeting.

BART Director Rebecca Saltzman tweeted that COVID cases are rising again and "we must keep riders safe, especially folks who are immunocompromised or who are under 5 and not yet eligible to get vaccinated."

But removing masks has some passengers breathing easier.

"Yes I'm happy about that, because I don't like the way it makes me feel because I have all these piercings. It just makes me feel like I can't breathe," said VTA rider Amanda Burroughs.

The decision comes after a federal ruling struck down a national mask mandate, leaving local transit agencies scrambling to modify their own policies.

"We wanted to make sure the agencies were all on the same page and so passengers wouldn't be confused or disappointed. So we were trying to communicate with each other," said Stacey Hendler Ross with VTA.

For most of Wednesday, there was still confusion.

But one by one, agencies like SFMTA, AC Transit, and Caltrain all decided to recommend masks and no longer require them.

California, which could have kept a mandate in place, on Wednesday announced their mask requirement is terminated effective immediately.

Union leaders said they are glad.

"Over 90% of our assaults on drivers over the past year and a half were because of the mask mandate and arguing with customers over putting a mask on. So it relieves a lot of that stress that a driver might have," said John Courtney, president of ATU Local 265.

VTA said they did not ask employees to be enforcers of the mask policy. Still for the new graduating class of drivers, the change is welcome.

"I think for the passengers it's going to be real good it will create less conflict. A lot of them don't have a mask and get upset about it. For me myself, I'm probably going to wear my mask just for my own safety," said VTA driver Jordan Pierce.

And he's not alone. Many passengers say they'll continue to cover up, at least for now.

"I would rather wear the mask until this epidemic is completely gone cause you don't know if it could start back up again... better be safe than sorry," said rider Robert Kester.

The California Department of Public Health makes it clear they continue to "strongly recommend masks on all public transportation and in transit hubs." 

Adding, "These crowded settings should be considered high risk."