70% of Hamilton transit riders reportedly wearing masks, city aiming for 90%

The Hamilton Street Railway has installed bio-shields on all of its buses to protect drivers, as the transit agency will begin collecting fares again on July 1. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

More than half of Hamilton’s transit users are reportedly complying with the new rule from Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) requiring passengers to wear a non-medical mask while riding the bus.

Paul Johnson, director of Hamilton’s emergency operations centre, said early data suggests 70 per cent of riders are following the “mandatory” mask policy.

“It looks like the community who rely on transit in the city of Hamilton are really stepping up,” said Johnson during an update from the city on Friday. “Our goal is about 90 per cent.”

Read more: Coronavirus — Hamilton transit riders will be required to wear masks as system ramps up capacity

The city began requiring all passengers to wear a non-medical mask on June 22. The only people exempt from the policy are those with respiratory-related medical issues, children under the age of 2 or those who cannot physically put on or remove a mask on their own.

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Despite the new policy, drivers will not refuse a ride to anyone — even if they’re not wearing a mask.

Johnson acknowledged that there is no effective way to fully enforce the policy.

“We are not going to ask people personal health questions in terms of denying them a ride, nor are we going to spend the resources to bring on a large number of people to enforce this. That would be a huge team that would be necessary to do that,” he said.

The city is also asking passengers to give them feedback on routes that might have fewer people wearing masks so they can increase awareness of the mask policy on those routes.

One way that the city is looking at increasing mask usage is by making free face coverings available for riders, with an announcement expected Monday or Tuesday.

Read more: Hamilton’s transit strategy on pause due to COVID-19 uncertainty

While the HSR has not been collecting fares during the pandemic, that will change come Wednesday.

Passengers have previously been required to enter buses from the rear door in order to protect drivers by creating more space between transit workers and riders, but the HSR has installed bio-shields for drivers on all 267 city buses so that fare collection can resume on July 1.

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Buses have also increased the passenger limit to two-thirds capacity as of June 22, which Johnson said has led to fewer pass-bys.

The HSR is facing an $11.7-million revenue shortfall as a result of not collecting fares during the pandemic.

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