Coronavirus

Transit advocates have concerns about how the new mask mandate could impact MBTA riders – especially those of color

"We don’t want people to feel like getting on the T is a situation where they will be unduly punished or criminalized in some way."

A view of a red line train pulling into Charles/MGH MBTA station. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

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Public transit advocates, some concerned that a new mask mandate could lead to profiling riders, are urging the MBTA to be considerate in how it enforces the $300 fine for those who are caught with uncovered faces.

On Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker granted the MBTA Transit Police the authority to enforce the state regulation — both onboard agency vehicles and at stations and facilities — that now requires people over the age of 5 to cover their face in public to help combat coronavirus spread.

Some say the law could be troubling though for folks who ride the T, The Boston Herald reports.

“All through history, whenever the T has made compromises or cuts, it’s always on backs of minority people — blacks, Latinos, disableds, domestic workers, farm workers,” Louise Baxter, a member of the MBTA Riders Union, told the newspaper.

Baxter said the fine is steep for many transit riders, and voiced concerns about “profiling” those same demographics while onboard.

Instead, the MBTA should work towards distributing masks to riders in need of one, she told the Herald.

Chris Dempsey, director of Transportation for Massachusetts, a coalition of organizations working to improve the statewide transportation system, told the newspaper the MBTA has to “strike the right balance” in sending a message to riders.

That means making clear that riders are required to wear masks, as well as providing face coverings for passengers who do not have them, he said.

“They need to do this … without singling out people who might not have access,” Dempsey said. “We don’t want people to feel like getting on the T is a situation where they will be unduly punished or criminalized in some way.”

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According to Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the MBTA, the agency had not issued any citations under the new regulation as of Sunday evening, the Herald reports.

Transit workers will remind riders without masks of the new rule and if they do not “immediately” comply, each instance will be reported to the Operations Control Center, which will manage a response with the Transit Police. MBTA employees are also required to wear masks in public.

Under the new order, people who are unable to wear a mask because of a medical or disabling condition are exempt from having to comply with the rule.

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