All across the United States, vaccination rates are going up, and masks are coming down. But not on public transportation.
When is that going to change? The Washington Examiner put that question to several public transportation agencies and transportation experts.
In most cases, those agencies said, "Not our call."
Sherri Ly, a spokeswoman for Washington, D.C.'s Metro system, said, "Metro continues to follow the latest CDC guidance requiring masks when on buses, trains, MetroAccess vehicles, and at indoor stations and in compliance with the federal mask mandate."
Los Angeles Metro communications manager Brian Haas explained that his agency "is adhering to requiring face coverings at all Metro facilities and on Metro buses and trains for its employees and the public per the TSA, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and Cal/OSHA requirements."
However, the Washington Examiner did find one possible exception in the Metro that services greater Portland.
"While Metro does not have a firm date on adjusting policies related to our COVID-19 procedures, we hope to make an announcement soon," information officer Kimberlee Ables said.
Even if the demasking date is a ways off, the notion that one transportation agency is considering it shows that increasing vaccination affects what public transportation planners think.
Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program, didn't speculate when the public transportation mask mandate will fall. However, he did venture a guess as to why it is still in place.
"Protecting transit drivers is essential as long as vaccination rates are short of herd immunity standards. Without any way to truly know if riders are vaccinated, mask-wearing is a low-cost, highly effective way to protect the agency's employees and other riders," Tomer said.
Jeff Davis, a senior fellow at the Eno Center for Transportation, is uncertain when the demasking will happen. "No idea," he said.
"At some point (and we may already be there), they run into separate problems — mask mandate no longer being strictly necessary from a medical POV but may be continuing to be necessary to bring back public confidence in air travel, trains, buses, and subways, etc. to get ridership back to the pre-COVID normal. Since DOT is in charge, they may be weighting both," he added.
Public transportation faced almost unprecedented problems last year with COVID-19 lockdowns, and it faces knock-on problems this year.
At the height of the pandemic, ridership fell by about 90%. All of those riders aren't immediately coming back. Many companies have embraced more remote options, which reduces demand for public transportation. Also, many people who had relied on transit but were worried about infection or reliability bought vehicles.
Luring them back will be no mean feat, and uncertainty about masks isn't making things any easier.
Marc Scribner, a transportation policy analyst for the Reason Foundation, said that he was "not sure" when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would lift its mandate, "but they exempted outdoor areas from the mask mandate a month ago if that is to be taken as part of a trend toward fewer restrictions."
Scribner told the Washington Examiner that he suspects that the CDC, and by extension transportation agencies that rely on CDC guidance, is "going to wait to evaluate the impacts of the delta variant this summer before making a decision."
Gary Leff, the author of the influential travel blog View from the Wing, said of air travel, "The current mandate runs through Sept. 13. At this point, it isn't expected to be extended, though it also seems unlikely to be lifted early. July 4 might have been a logical time to declare victory, but there's lobbying pressure not to do so. As with all things in the pandemic, circumstances can change, such as a virus mutation that causes significant breakthrough infections which overcome vaccination and prior infection."
Additionally, he cautioned that mask requirements in international travel would remain in place much longer.
"The U.K. is lifting its mask mandate for air travel, but U.K. airlines are expected to keep their own mandates in place anyway. Most U.K. flights are international, to destinations where mandates remain in place," Leff told the Washington Examiner.
Washington Examiner Videos
Original Author: Jeremy Lott
Original Location: No end in sight for mask mandates on public transportation