A bank of BART turnstiles under bright strip lighting in a BART station, with people photographed from the back approaching the turnstiles.
Commuters at the Montgomery BART station in San Francisco. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

BART Reinstates Mask Mandate, Only Bay Area Transit Agency to Do So

BART Reinstates Mask Mandate, Only Bay Area Transit Agency to Do So

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Updated 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, May 3

The federal travel mask mandate — originally set to expire on April 18 — was ruled unlawful on April 18 by a federal judge in Florida. A few hours later, the Transportation Security Administration announced it would no longer enforce mask rules inside airports and airplanes and on public transportation.

The Justice Department has appealed this decision. In the meantime, this ruling means private and public transportation agencies can now drop their own mask mandates.

Most major airlines, along with the San Francisco, Oakland and San José international airports, now have made masks optional. Rideshare giants Uber and Lyft also have dropped their masking requirements for passengers and drivers. And private bus companies, like FlixBus and Megabus, have followed suit.

All Bay Area public transit agencies no longer require face masks — except BART

Several Bay Area transit agencies — including Caltrain and Muni — initially retained their mask rules after the TSA announcement.

But on April 20, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced that the state's mask requirements for public transit — and transportation hubs, like stations — also were terminated "effective immediately." The statement nonetheless still "strongly" recommended that California residents keep wearing their masks in these settings.

Every Bay Area public transit agency subsequently dropped their mask requirements for riders following the state's announcement. However, several BART officials communicated that they would push for new mask rules on the rapid transit system that would function independently of any state or local mandate. And on April 28, the BART Board of Directors announced that wearing a mask would once again be required by the agency's code of conduct, effective immediately. Read more about BART's new mask rules.

Could we see more agencies or regions reintroducing their own mask rules for public transit — regardless of the Justice Department's own appeal against the original decision by the Florida judge? Right now, it's unclear. On Tuesday, CDC officials declined to comment on the status of that appeal, and The Associated Press reports that DOJ officials did not immediately respond to a request for information.

On April 22, Los Angeles County independently introduced a new health order that once again requires masks on all public transit within the county. LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's continued guidance that masking on public transit remains a key way of preventing the spread of COVID.

It's worth mentioning that the Florida ruling does not mean the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have dropped their own recommendations around masking on public transit. On the contrary, on Tuesday the CDC restated their recommendation that Americans wear masks on planes, trains and buses.

"When people properly wear a well-fitting mask or respirator, they protect themselves and those around them, and help keep travel and public transportation safer for everyone," said the CDC's statement. "Wearing a well-fitting mask or respirator is most beneficial in crowded or poorly ventilated locations, such as airport jetways."

In the meantime, remember: Regardless of whether a transit agency has dropped its mask requirement, you can always choose to keep wearing your mask in whichever setting you please. NPR has tips on figuring out whether wearing a mask when others around you are not (aka "one-way masking") is the right call.

Face mask requirements of all Bay Area transit agencies

BART

Are masks required on BART? Yes, starting April 28.

The rapid transit system, which serves five Bay Area counties, now requires riders to wear masks in all its facilities beyond the fare gates. This includes any waiting areas, platforms and trains.

Although BART previously dropped its mask requirement on April 20 to align with new federal and state guidance, the agency's board of directors voted Thursday to add a temporary amendment to the BART Code of Conduct that requires face mask use. This amendment is set to last 11 weeks, through July 18, but can be extended by officials.

BART Board President Rebecca Saltzman, along with Vice President Janice Li and Director Bevan Dufty, introduced the measure earlier this month. "COVID cases are rising and we must keep riders safe, especially folks with health conditions, immunocompromised, and kids not yet eligible to get vaccinated," Saltzman wrote on Twitter moments after the board approved the amendment.

This rule is only required by BART and not enabled by any TSA directive or local public health ordinance. However, BART police have been tasked with enforcing mask wearing. On social media, the agency explained that "BART PD will continue its education-based enforcement of the mask requirement by offering free masks to anyone who needs one before taking any enforcement action which could include a citation up to $75 or being ejected from the paid area."

Caltrain

Are masks required on Caltrain? No.

Caltrain updated riders Wednesday afternoon that it will no longer require face masks on trains. The agency stated on Twitter that while its mandate has ended, "guests can and are strongly encouraged to continue wearing them."

AC Transit

Are masks required on AC Transit? No.

AC Transit, which serves both Alameda and Contra Costa counties, announced on Tuesday afternoon that wearing a mask is now voluntary on agency buses.

The agency stressed that wearing a face mask is still highly recommended by both the TSA and the CDC.

Passengers on the F Muni car in San Francisco. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Muni

Are masks required on Muni? No.

Officials at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) announced Wednesday that as of Thursday at 12:01 a.m., masks are no longer required on Muni. The agency says it's still "strongly recommending" that people who ride Muni continue to wear a mask.

A statement from SFMTA laid emphasis on what it called "excellent air flow" on Muni, noting that "the Muni fleet HVAC systems turn the air over once every minute."

VTA (Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority)

Are masks required on VTA? No.

Santa Clara County's public transit agency announced on Wednesday that masks will no longer be required on VTA buses, light rail and facilities — and it's now only "strongly recommending" passengers wear masks.

In light of this policy change, VTA will be removing all signs and posters on agency vehicles that ask passengers to wear masks on board.

SamTrans

Are masks required on SamTrans? No.

San Mateo County's public transit system announced Wednesday that masks are no longer required on its services but are still "strongly encouraged."

 

Golden Gate Transit

Are masks required on Golden Gate Transit? No.

The transportation district, which includes San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma and Contra Costa counties, will no longer enforce its mask requirement on Golden Gate Transit (GGT) buses and ferries.

However, GGT spokesperson Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz shared in an email to KQED that the district is "awaiting additional federal, state, and local public health guidance" before making any permanent changes to its mask rules.

A bank of BART turnstiles at 24th Street Station. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

SMART

Are masks required on SMART? No.

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit officials confirmed with KQED that the agency has stopped enforcing its mask rules as of Tuesday morning. However, spokesperson Matt Stevens added that SMART will still require agency employees to wear masks aboard trains or when riding in agency vehicles with other workers, noting that this is in accordance with Cal/OSHA workplace rules.

Santa Cruz METRO

Are masks required on Santa Cruz METRO? No — but this only applies to vaccinated people.

Santa Cruz METRO — which serves both Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties — announced on Tuesday it will no longer require individuals fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to wear face masks in agency vehicles and transit centers.

Unvaccinated passengers are still required to wear face masks on Santa Cruz METRO.

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San Francisco Bay Ferry

Are masks required on the San Francisco Bay Ferry? No.

The Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority, which oversees the Bay Ferry network, announced Wednesday that masks are no longer required on its services. The Twitter announcement also notes that "outdoor seating is available on every ferry":

This story contains reporting by KQED's Carly Severn and the Associated Press.

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