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The Mask Mandate and the Challenge for Public Transportation Drivers to Enforce Compliance

Federal Mask Order

On January 21, President Joe Biden issued an order called the “Executive Order on Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel that requires certain federal government agencies to require travelers to wear masks on commercial airlines, trains and buses. The executive order says that the “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Surgeon General, and the National Institutes of Health have concluded that mask-wearing, physical distancing, appropriate ventilation, and timely testing can mitigate the risk of travelers spreading COVID-19.”

To further the enforcement of the executive order, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued an order, on January 29, requiring staff and passengers to wear face masks on public transportation conveyances and at transportation hubs (e.g., airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and subway stations, seaports). This order mandates that transportation operators must require all persons boarding, disembarking and for the duration of travel to wear a mask. Operators of transportation hubs also must require all persons to wear mask when entering or on the premise of a transportation hub. Persons with  disabilities and children under two years of age are exempt from the mask requirement.

The Challenge in Enforcing Compliance

While the orders are meant to protect public transportation drivers and passengers and reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. The added responsibility on drivers to enforce compliance with the mask requirement could potentially become a difficult task. Drivers are now responsible for making sure unmasked passengers comply with the federal mask mandate and potentially, remove any person not in compliance from the vehicle. According to the CDC, depending on circumstances, operators must take the following actions:

  • Board and allow entry only to people who wear masks.
  • Instruct people that wearing a mask on the conveyance/premises is a requirement of federal law and that not complying with the requirement is a violation of federal law.
  • Monitor the conveyance/premises for any person who is not wearing a mask and seek compliance from such a person.
  • At the earliest safe opportunity, disembark/remove from premises any person who refuses to comply.
  • Notify people of the requirement to make sure they are aware of and comply with the requirement to wear a mask. Examples of such notifications are messaging in apps, on websites or through email; posters in multiple languages with illustrations; and printing the information on tickets.

Since COVID-19, there has been an increase in reported verbal and physical attacks on transit drivers after passengers were asked to comply with local and state face-mask guidelines. These new responsibilities could create additional hurdles for drivers.

The authors of a recent article, “Public transit drivers struggle to enforce mask mandates”, [1] shared responses from a focus a group conducted by Georgia State University Urban Studies Institute on the difficulties bus drivers in the Atlanta metro area have faced enforcing mask orders. Some of those problems include:

  • In addition to promoting social distancing, cleaning buses between routes, maintaining a timely schedule and driving safely, drivers must enforce the mask mandate and remove passengers who do not comply.
  • Drivers report that buses often don’t have enough masks for passengers who arrive without one.
  • Drivers are generally the only staff on board and cannot easily remove passengers for not following orders. They also fear endangering themselves or other passengers.
  • Drivers facing hostility and violence when enforcing the mask mandate.

Resources for Drivers

Potential solutions to assist drivers with enforcing the face mask mandate range from hiring more staff to help with compliance to offering training that provides drivers with de-escalation strategies. CTAA offers training on Conflict Management and De-escalation for Transit Drivers and Supervisors and the National Transit Institute (NTI) offers an Assault Awareness and Prevention for Transit Operators course. Both are designed to provide bus operators with prevention strategies to reduce the risk of assault incidents. Prevention strategies include communication and response skills and emphasize the value of reporting incidents and the importance of seeking assistance to reduce the risk of assault. A video recording of the abbreviated National Transit Institute (NTI) Assault Awareness and Prevention for Transit Operators course is now available.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has launched a “Mask Up” campaign to support transportation workers in their efforts to communicate the new mask law to passengers. The USDOT has also developed a toolkit with talking points, social media messaging, multi-media and print-ready resources to support outreach efforts.

This blog was written by Heather Edmonds, Program Associate for the National Aging & Disability Transportation Center and National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a).


[1] Johnston, Karen and Kershner, Stacie. “Public transit drivers struggle to enforce mask mandates.” The Conversation, 4, March 2021.






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