Passengers in Ottawa attempting to catch the bus or board a train after June 15th will want to bring a mask with them if they want to hitch a ride.
As a part of the OC Transpo’s Transit Commission’s 10-1 decision, cloth masks will be required for passengers and staff waiting at stations or riding aboard trains and busses. Per the Ottawa’s website for public transit these measures are part of the city’s recovery plan for transitioning between lockdown and a return to normal life.
For Ottawa, the nation’s capital and the sixth most densely populated city in Canada, that return means the resurgence of a high level of transit across the city.
Ottawa’s public transportation systems are some of the most frequented in the country. With over 94.4 million users in 2017, the city has about 315,000 passengers who use the system a week.
The city’s decision to make masks mandatory is the first of its kind among Canadian transportation services and is aimed at bringing a controlled return to those kinds of ridership numbers. The city Councillor, Riley Brockington, says that while he’s glad to see the measures in place, he believes the mandate should have been made much sooner.
"I think this has taken way too long to get to us," Brockington told CBC news. "I think that the fear of spread has always been there."
As time passes, the number of riders continues to steadily climb. For other a month and a half, pressures from would-be passengers have urged the city to re-open transit. The masks are a first step towards granting those demands. June 15, the date of the requirement’s implementation, will come roughly two weeks before the system is scheduled to re-open at full capacity, starting on June 28.
Even though the requirement clearly states everyone on a public transportation system should be wearing a mask, leaders like John Manconi, the general manager for Transpo, say there won’t be fines for people who break the rules.
"We're not going to fine anyone," Manconi told outlets, "Communication is our focus. If, after many days and weeks, there's a blatant 'I'm not doing this' attitude we might get to that. We're not there yet. I believe 99.9 percent of the population will understand the message."
Despite Manconi's optimism, it's unclear if commuters will take the mandate seriously.
There will also be exceptions. Provisions will be made for passengers physically or medically unable to wear masks. Manconi stated that passengers who claim these sorts of disabilities will be taken at their word. In his words, there will be "mask police."
In an attempt to encourage safe but controlled travel, on-site supplies will be offered for would-be travelers who forget to bring a mask from home. According to Global News, OC Transpo employees will provide up to 200,000 masks at transit sites, hopefully accounting for those still uninformed of the mandate.
OC Transpo’s call for its users to wear masks will depend—at least initially—on the cooperation of Ottawa’s transit users. Brent Moloughney, an associate medial health officer of Ottawa Public Health, hopes citizen will act in compliance. While he wants to see people back on the streets, he hopes it’s in accordance to Ottawa’s guidelines.
"We want to see as many people as possible who can wear a mask do so," Moloughney said.