An extension of the federal law requiring face masks in public transportation settings means Long Island Rail Road riders will have to continue masking up at least through mid-January, officials said.
The Transportation Security Administration’s requirement that masks be used throughout public transportation settings in the U.S. — including trains, buses, commercial planes and airports — initially was set to expire on Sept. 13. It already had been extended from its original expiration date of May 11.
The TSA in a statement Wednesday said mask rules will remain in place through at least Jan. 18. The federal agency said the purpose of the extension “is to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation.”
Although officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the LIRR’s parent organization — last week declined to speculate on when its mask mandate might be lifted, the agency has said its policy is “consistent” with guidance from state and federal authorities. An MTA spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the extension.
Despite the mandate — and the threat of a $50 fine for violators — the LIRR has acknowledged a substantial drop in mask compliance among customers, from 98% in late April to 88% last week. Several LIRR commuters said they believe the actual compliance rate is far lower, and regularly have shared accounts and images on social media depicting several unmasked train passengers.
Following a Newsday story this week in which riders criticized the lax enforcement of the railroad’s mask policy, the LIRR on Monday published photos on social media of MTA Police confronting unmasked riders on trains and “reminding them of the law.”
MTA chairman and chief executive officer Janno Lieber on Monday said the agency’s mask policy overall has been “a great success.”
“There was a little bit of backsliding when we all started getting a little casual about masks. But compliance is way up, I believe,” Lieber said.
The LIRR Commuter Council, the railroad’s state-regulated rider advocacy group, this week called on MTA Police to step up enforcement of the railroad’s mask policy on trains. Since the state approved a law 11 months ago allowing police to hand out $50 fines to people not wearing masks in the MTA system, 41 summonses have been issued, officials said.
Council chairman Gerard Bringmann said he’s hopeful the extension of the mask mandate could help boost compliance on the LIRR.
“If people thought it was going to expire on September 13, they’re going to take it very lightly. It’s like, ‘We’ve just got to get through another couple weeks,’ ” Bringmann said. “But once it’s like, ‘No, we’ve got these masks for another four or five months, it’s like, ‘I guess they’re serious about it.’ “