Subway, bus riders face $50 fine for refusing to wear a mask

Commuters who refuse to wear a mask on New York City subways, trains, and buses face a $50 fine starting Monday.

The agency that runs one of the world's busiest transit systems, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, can issue fines after filing emergency regulations with the secretary of state, Chairman Patrick Foye said Thursday. The public can also weigh in on the agency's new regulation, he said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio had earlier urged sick commuters to stay off public transit if possible to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Now, New York City Transit interim President Sarah Feinberg said compliance with New York's mask requirement is “very high” on public transit at a time when ridership is picking up, though still far from pre-pandemic levels.

But Feinberg said some passengers refuse to wear a mask even when offered one by a transit worker.

“This is a last resort,” she said in a conference call with reporters. “This is really for the very few people who refuse to wear a mask when offered.”

“Frankly, they don’t have the right to scare anyone from the system,” she later added.

Cuomo said he worries about an influx of car traffic into New York City and said he hopes the penalty will help encourage New Yorkers to return to public transit by lowering the possibility of getting infected while using transit.

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Feinberg said the penalty will be enforced by MTA police, and New York Police Department officers can also enforce it.

“We will not be asking our own workforce to enforce this," she said. "They already have plenty to do, and this is not their job.”

The NYPD had stopped enforcing mask-wearing in mid-May following the release of a video showing officers handcuffing a mother. De Blasio said at the time that officers would prioritize dispersing gatherings of adults.

Public health experts have raised concerns about overcrowding on public transit, and are urging commuters to wear masks, stay 6 feet apart from others, avoid crowds, practice hand hygiene and avoid transit if vulnerable.

Is it safe to ride public transit during the COVID-19 pandemic?