Coronavirus

America's Post-Pandemic Reopening Is Passing Public Transportation By

Ridership is dismally depressed and a federal mask mandate for straphangers remains stubbornly in place.

|

The country is belatedly shedding its last vestigial pandemic policies and practices. Once shuttered public schools are open for in-person instruction everywhere. Customers are flocking back to restaurants free from capacity restrictions and mandatory vaccine checks. Attendance at concerts and theme parks is booming.

But public transportation remains a rare exception to the opening of America. A federal mask requirement for riders remains firmly in place and ridership is stuck at a terminally depressed fraction of its pre-pandemic levels.

Subway ridership in New York City, America's transit capital, is about half of where it was pre-pandemic. Rail ridership in Washington D.C. remains at levels not seen since the late 1970s, when the system had about a third of its current number of stations. BART, which services the San Francisco Bay Area, is patting itself on the back for seeing ridership rise to 30 percent of 2019 levels.

One question facing the industry is whether it should ditch its mask requirements as a way of saving resources and winning back a few straphangers or keep them around forever.

In the former camp is a coalition of 21 mostly Republican state attorneys general who filed a lawsuit today aimed at overturning the Biden Administration's mask mandate for travels aboard airplanes and public transportation.

"Even lockdown States like California have announced the end of their mask mandates. Still, the CDC unabashedly leaves its mandate intact," reads the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

The lawsuit goes on to argue that the mask mandate imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is an "arbitrary and capricious" measure that violates numerous federal laws as well as the U.S. Constitution. It demands that the mask mandate be declared unlawful and that the federal government be forbidden from enforcing it.

The transit industry itself has also urged the Biden administration to reconsider masking requirements. Back in early March, the American Public Transportation Association asked that the CDC masking order not be extended beyond its prior March 18 expiration date.

"We know that the Administration is resolute in its efforts to lead the country back to normality and a path to economic recovery. Ceasing the federal mask mandate will support those efforts," wrote American Public Transportation Association President Paul P. Skoutelas in a March 3 letter to the Biden administration asking that the CDC order be allowed to expire on March 18 as scheduled.

Not everyone is so keen to let mask mandates for travelers go. The Biden administration, contra APTA's urging, is keeping its mask order in effect until at least April 18.

Writing at Bloomberg today, columnist Justin Fox suggests we go further. While shying away from mandates, he suggests agencies and individual citizens vigorously support a social norm of mask-wearing on public transit.

"In general I'm all for getting back to normal as we figure out how to live with Covid-19," Fox writes, saying he has returned to the office, restaurants, and shaking hands. Nevertheless, he says "I'd be happy to keep wearing masks on the bus and subway pretty much forever, and would really like it if lots of other people did, too."

Fox suggests that the minor cost of wearing a mask on a short bus or train ride is worth the modest benefit they might provide in stopping COVID-19 as well as other transmissible viruses like the cold and the flu.

That's silly. People obviously don't ride public transit just to ride it. They're trying to get from somewhere to somewhere. If masks aren't being worn at one's origin or destination, their value in suppressing disease for the brief time you're in transit is probably close to zero.

In New York City, solitary motorists likely did more to drive the early spread of COVID-19 than subway riders. That's because it matters more where you're going than how you get there.

The cost of wearing a mask on public transit also increases if nowhere else requires or encourages you to wear one. It's less likely you'll remember your mask for the bus and more likely you'll find it conspicuous and irritating that you put one on once you get there.

This is probably one reason that people's compliance with mask-wearing on New York's buses and trains is in free fall, as Fox acknowledges in his column.

Fox suggests a number of other reasons for wearing masks on transit outside of disease prevention. Having one environment where people have to wear masks constantly will shore up demand for the mask industry, meaning it will be ready to meet the demand of the next pandemic, he says. Having riders cover their faces will also stop them eating (which is already against the rules) or talking (which is annoying), he continues.

The first point is hardly convincing. Pre-pandemic, about 5 percent of workers commute via transit. Even if all those workers started taking transit again and all wore their masks every time they did, they wouldn't sustain production capacity at a level necessary to meet demand during the next pandemic.

(Getting rid of federal regulations on new mask-making facilities would probably be an easier way of ramping up mask production.)

Meanwhile, APTA specifically cites the costs and hassle of enforcing mask mandates as a reason to get rid of them. They clearly don't think they're some magic compliance tool that gets people to follow all the other rules as well.

Again, Fox argues for a permanent masking norm on public transit, not mandates. He suggests transit agencies run public relations campaigns urging people to wear masks.

If that's how agencies really want to spend their shrinking pile of farebox revenue, they can. It's unlikely it'll do much good.

Almost everyone seems to view masks as a temporary expediency that is no longer necessary. The number of people who think that will only grow as the pandemic continues to fade away. It seems more likely that their preferences about the social norms of mask-wearing will win out in the end.

NEXT: He Spent 28 Years Behind Bars for a Murder He Didn't Commit and Died Before Seeing Justice

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. We're not post pandemic. We're inter-pandemic! I mean, intra-pandemic! Something pandemic! I can't be over!

    /Shmoe Friday

    1. anti-vaxxxer

      1. Are we back to that now? I thought "Russian propagandist" would have a little bit more time in the sun

        1. I am making easily every month $ 22000 to $ 28000 just by doing simple work from home. This job is online and very easy to do part-time or Full-time even no special experience required for this task. (qwe03) Anyone can now participate in this job and start earning just like me by just following link…..

          >>>>>>>>>> http://CurrentJobs64.Cf

  2. Fox suggests a number of other reasons for wearing masks on transit outside of disease prevention... Having riders cover their faces will also stop them [sic] or talking (which is annoying)

    Holy Shit! So, we can mandate that Fox wear a muzzle and mittens to keep him from talking or writing (which is annoying), right?

    1. Buggy whips are now mandatory to keep the buggy whip makers busy!

      What a retard.

    2. Writing from Shiticon hell where I have to take VTA to work let me assure everyone: Those masks do NOT stop randos from being obnoxiously loud!!!

  3. I have a list of people I wouldn't mind seeing have masks permanently welded to their faces.

    1. Show us the list! After saec shows his though.

  4. They also fired 50% of the bus drivers where I live for refusing the jab. The busses went from every 15 minutes to every 60 minutes, which is a level of service that makes using it not worth it. Fuck public services.

  5. > Even lockdown States like California have announced the end of their mask mandates.

    Which has caused the biggest pants shitting in the history of the state.

    Funny thing, the state is actually tracking COVID through DNA testing at water treatment plants. I shit you not. But the data is weird. I don't think it's useful. But does show that BA.2 is spreading like wildfire even though there's not even an uptick in the testing. People who aren't sick don't get tested. Simple.

    But more seriously, a friend of mine is freaked out about the dropping of the mandate. He's shocked, shocked, that people are using his gym without a mask. He went grocery shopping and found some dude without a mask, and had to leave the store. WTF? Yeah, many of my friends are seriously OCD, and the pandemic has sent them into simultaneous bliss and horror. (I'm a bit OCD myself, just not about germs).

    The onus now is on the concerned. They're all vaccinated, most are double masking, all they need to do is keep on masking and not worry about what someone else is doing. Or just stay home and cower. I'll still wear my mask in stores, but it depends on what everyone else is doing. If everyone stops wearing their mask I will do. At work most people stopped, so did it. In stores most people haven't. No big deal to me. But I'm not going to freak out when I stumble across someone who isn't masked. Besides, I'm vaccinated, the danger isn't to me.

    1. Yeah, now that you’re vaccinated you’re immune! Right?

        1. Of course, the risk of death for people outside certain high-risk groups was always miniscule. 95% of almost nothing is almost nothing.

        2. Being not elderly or sick gives like 99.9% protection against mortality if infected.

    2. Are you in Bay Area? In San Diego some people are still wearing masks in public businesses but the majority aren't. Of course San Diego is not as far left politically as LA or SF.

      1. In SF, there are folks peddling bikes uphill wearing masks! There is NO possible medical gain there and quite possibly the opposite.
        Being a nice guy, I don't stick a broom-stick in their wheels, but the temptation is there...

    3. but it depends on what everyone else is doing.

      Whatever you do, don’t think for yourself, because you don’t appear capable.

      1. Brandybuck appears to understand the issues quite well and probably just doesn't want to make rock the boat in public.

        I went without wearing the masks in stores in CA during our most recent King Newsom fiat and it is sort of unnerving getting stares and always worrying about getting into a confrontation.

        1. Well, there's your problem right there. Being "afraid" of a confrontation with one of these maskholes is precisely why those idiots are able to get away with pulling that bullshit on the rest of us. My God man, take life by the balls and stand up for yourself.

          1. Still remember when the first stores here started not requiring masks. Everyone was still wearing them. But many started taking them off as soon as they saw someone else unmasked. Watched it in real time. No I didn't have a mask.

          2. Criticism is fair enough; yeah I was being a bit of a wuss. It's part of how pernicious this whole "new normal" line of thought is - we're getting scared to do things that are basic rights.

            1. Who is "we"?

        2. Brandy has advocated for continued masking of everyone as recently as a month ago. He is a leftist dependent shit.

        3. Brandyshit is a TDS-addled pile of shit.
          You and brandyshit need to grow a pair or fuck off.

    4. I think the big problem is there's an assumption that everyone in society is responsible for each individual's health. Most people who die from COVID are unvaccinated with multiple respiratory and/or circulatory co-morbidities. Most of the things which can be done to lessen the chances of dying from COVID are basically up to the individual:
      1. Get vaxed and boosted
      2. Don't smoke
      3. Don't abuse drugs or alcohol
      4. Eat a healthy diet and exercise
      5. Get regular doctor's exams
      Even if we don't care about freedom, insisting that everyone in society wears masks, gets vaccinated, social distances, etc only help a small amount to prevent COVID deahts.

      1. >are basically up to the individual:

        There's the problem. You can't tell other people what to do. Where's the fun in that?

        I still say a contender for the most pernicious piece of bullshit, from a social standpoint, that came from all of this was the "My mask protects you yours protects me" shit. It is neither true nor scientific, but man has it caused a shitload of social discord.

        1. Which is exactly why they made it up.

      2. Most people who died of covid were obese diabetics, 80+ years old.

      3. I thought smoking was associated with better outcomes (surprisingly).

    5. Don't worry, cases are rising, we'll be back to the New Normal soon.

    6. He went grocery shopping and found some dude without a mask, and had to leave the store.

      I didn't know you were friends with Joe Friday. You seem like an unlikely pair.

      1. Pretty sure they're not friends. Joe Friday wants mandates and lockdowns forever; Brandybuck seems to not agree with the mandates and lockdowns crowd but doesn't want to go against them.

        1. "...Brandybuck seems to not agree with the mandates and lockdowns crowd but doesn't want to go against them."

          Brandyshit is a TDS-addled asshole and a bootlicker. Take that to the bank.

    7. Yeah, many of my friends are seriously OCD, and the pandemic has sent them into simultaneous bliss and horror. (I'm a bit OCD myself, just not about germs).

      Not for nothing, but this isn't OCD. Almost certainly grotesque infatuation, maybe a little bit of Messiah Complex and narcissism, but OCD and germophobes wear three masks a day, wash their hands five times, wear three pairs of gloves, and refuse to touch other people or touch them three times whether the law or social norms mandate it or not.

    1. nardz hardest hit!

  6. Well, damn; the only place where masks are mandated is the place more people avoid?
    Whodathunkit?
    According to the CDC advice on every flu (except the one from Communist China) is that masks are not necessary unless you are actively nursing someone who has the flu.

    (CDC statement on masks and the ‘real’ flu:
    Background; Masks are not usually recommended in non-healthcare settings; however, this guidance provides other strategies for limiting the spread of influenza viruses in the community.
    Unvaccinated Asymptomatic Persons, Including Those at High Risk for Influenza Complications
    No recommendation can be made at this time for mask use in the community by asymptomatic persons, including those at high risk for complications, to prevent exposure to influenza viruses.)

    1. According to the CDC advice on every flu (except the one from Communist China) is that masks are not necessary unless you are actively nursing someone who has the flu.

      Prior to COVID, Surgical and cloth masks were Known(tm) by the CDC to not be effective for infection OR source control of influenza. Then suddenly they were eleventy thousand percent effective and if you weren't wearing one around your chin, you were Hitler.

  7. Most of the people who take public transportation are poor and therefore politically powerless. Keeping the mandate gives our rulers a way to kick around people who have no way to fight back.

  8. Subways, and especially busses, were primary vectors of covid infection.

    Unfortunately, masks don't much help prevent that.

    Fortunately, the threat is mostly over.

  9. The pandemic isn't over you twit - we hope it will be soon, and since strap hangers are in very close proximity in stale air, mask wearing in this situation is a recommended practice to minimize transmission.

    This is a dishonest column which is based on wishful and ignorant thinking.

    1. PS Studies abound on masks effectiveness against Covid, as well as studies on the mechanics of transmission and how masks work against it. Of course these were only done by scientists, not comment board experts, and endorsed by the overwhelming numbers of scientists in the field and epidemiologists, not the handful of publicity seeking crackpots available on the internet for any bullshit subject you want to believe.

      1. "Studies abound on masks effectiveness against Covid"

        Bullshit.

        1. Here you go Vernon:

          https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/science/science-briefs/masking-science-sars-cov2.html

          On the mechanics:

          "The study revealed, for example, that a person talking without a face mask can spread infected droplets one meter away. Should the same person cough, the drops can be spread up to three meters and if the person sneezes, the spread distance can be up to seven meters. But using a face mask, the risk of spreading the infection decreases significantly.

          "If you wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask, the risk of infection is reduced to such an extent that it is practically negligible -- even if you're only standing one meter away from an infected person," explains Gaetano Sardina, Associate Professor of Fluid Mechanics at the Department of Mechanics and Maritime Sciences at Chalmers University of Technology, who is one of the researchers behind the study.

          In the study, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the researchers tested the new model using data from recent numerical experiments on droplet emissions. This allowed them to take several factors into account and quantify the risk of infection, with and without a face mask.

          Size a factor in droplet behavior

          "...Viruses, such as SARS-COV-2, are spread from an infected individual to other susceptible individuals through virus-filled droplets that are released when talking, coughing, or sneezing. Droplets emitted from the salivary glands are sprayed out through the exhaled air. Once out of the mouth, these drops can either evaporate, settle or remain floating. Larger and heavier droplets tend to fall in a ballistic motion before evaporating, while smaller droplets behave like aerosols that spray and remain airborne.

          The results show that a surgical face mask and, to an even greater extent, an FFP2 mask provide excellent protection that significantly reduces the risk of infection. Provided that the face mask is worn correctly, the risk of infection is negligible even at distances as short as one meter, regardless of environmental conditions and if the person is talking, coughing or sneezing..."

          https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/03/220301093655.htm

          1. The studies mean very little when they aren't conducted in realistic conditions. Yes, masks can be effective in some ways under some circumstances. But there is close to zero evidence that requiring masks widely makes any difference. And making people wear masks for long periods causes real and lasting harm. You can't ignore that side of the equation.

    2. The pandemic will never be over to you and the rest of the mandates-and-lockdowns forever crowd.

      1. There really is no point of discussion with the zero-Covid crowd.

        1. D-pizzle is that what you all call yourselves now? Read my post above for some facts.

      2. justabill I'm not a member of the group you name, which no doubt does not exist.

    3. It's over. It's endmic.

  10. Still waiting for someone to realize working from home is the solution to our fossil fuel dependence and traffic problems

  11. Both Fox and the CDC are clueless. Still see some dumb fucks wearing masks, even outside or driving alone.

  12. Wait, "reason" is bemoaning problems with a government function? Where is the "privatize now and all problems go away" shtick? This sustains my belief that "reason" is a libterd front.

  13. One question facing the industry is whether it should ditch its mask requirements as a way of saving resources and winning back a few straphangers or keep them around forever.

    Public transportation is not an “industry.” It’s a racket where people driving pickup trucks in rural Kansas are forced to heavily subsidize NYC subway riders.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.