Long-time driver Olivia says most people are good, but the problem is always there.
There are four of us on the bus, including the driver. Everyone has masks on. The younger lady sits on the side seat behind the driver, with carefully braided strings of hair, gold glinting out from some of the strands. She’s talking into a cell phone.
The older lady sits reading what look like illustrated stories for younger kids.
The bus takes off from Twelfth and Imperial and heads down National towards the bridge. “You need to put your mask on properly,” says the younger lady.
The older lady just keeps on reading. Now I look, I see her mask stops beneath her nostrils. The driver activates the public address system. “...to cover mouth and nose...”
No response from the older woman.
One of MTS’s 800 buses and 150 Trolleys. They enjoy “95 percent compliance”with mask-wearing passengers.
“Lady!” yells the younger woman. “We don’t want to catch your covid! Put your mask on your nose.”
The older woman ignores her for several blocks. “Driver! Somebody’s got to make this lady understand. It’s the rules!”
The driver pulls into the next stop. He takes off his belt, swings open the Perspex shielding door beside him, and comes out. The old lady continues reading. “Tell her! Tell her!”
The driver leans over. “Ma’am. I don’t want to have to put you off the bus. Please just raise your mask the top inch and cover your nose.”
He’s looking directly down at her. She looks slowly up, raises her face scarf, and goes back to reading.
“Maybe she’s deaf,” says the younger woman.
MTS’s Rob Schupp. It’s a request, not so much an order.
“This face mask business happens all the time,” says the driver. “We have enough to do without this.”
“We do everything we can to encourage people to wear face masks,” Rob Schupp tells me later. He’s MTS’s spokesperson. “We’ve got signs up all over the place, our ambassadors [at special events] have face coverings to hand out to people who don’t have them. Our security officers do as well. We’ve got 800 buses out there, 150 trolleys. That’s a lot of vehicles to make sure everybody’s complying. When somebody has no face mask when they’re getting on the bus, they are told the rules. But we’ve got other passengers on board who are dependent on us to get to their destination. So we rarely will refuse service, though we will call in that incident and have security meet somebody at the end of the line if they’re still on board. As the FTA (Federal Transit Administration) says, ‘We’re trying to encourage compliance, not enforce it.’ Enforcement is a tough thing to do.”
And employees, Schupp says, are more at risk than most. “There’s about 2700 of us in MTS, and over the 9-12 months of covid, we’ve had somewhere over 300 cases. But there has only been one case that has been traced back to the work, and it wasn’t on board a bus. Also, there’s no evidence that there’s a greater risk when you’re riding transit than you are anywhere else”.
Back on the bus, the older lady is finally getting off. She doesn’t look at her nemesis. But she does mutter something to the driver. I swear she says, “If she had just been more polite.”