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Masking the issue

Why compliancy rates on Edmonton Transit are so low
and how the city is dealing with it

The ETS has reported the lowest level of compliance to mask bylaws of any public spaces. (Cole Buhler)

By Peter Williams

SINCE EDMONTON enacted the Temporary Face Covering bylaw in August, city officials have been open about their approach to issuing tickets.

“Enforcement officers start by informing people about the requirement to put on a mask or face covering followed by offering a mask to the person(s),” says Rowan Anderson, the communications advisor for city operations. “If these tactics do not gain compliance, enforcement and fines are considered.”

While the face-covering compliance rate for the city sits at 98 per cent, public transit lags behind, with the buses sitting at 97.7 per cent, and the LRT at 90.9 per cent.

If these tactics do not gain compliance, enforcement
and fines are considered.

In a passenger count report conducted in 2019, the city estimated that there were approximately 113,804 average weekday boardings, with University Station having the highest number at 15,531. Although the 2020 passenger report has yet to be released, it’s safe to assume the number of passengers on public transportation will have decreased, with so many jobs have moved into the home and university classes taking place online.

Many Edmontonians still rely on public transit to get around the city, like Josh Kanash, a student at the University of Alberta.

“I watched people walk onto the bus wearing masks improperly or they pull down their masks once they sit down,” he says. “I’ve never interacted with these people, and have never seen an officer ticket them.”

Transit patrol is conducted by peace officers, who have the authority to enforce Alberta Health Services restrictions as well as the city’s face covering bylaw. In January, Edmonton averaged 151.5 proactive patrols, with an average of 14.2 of those patrolling transit. In February, those numbers dipped to 100.2 and 8.5.

Asked why there are fewer proactive patrols on buses and the LRT as opposed to areas with higher compliancy rates, Anderson responded that enforcement units in the city have different capacities to do proactive patrols for face covering compliance, and that peace officers have multiple different calls for service they must react to.

“Proactive patrols for face-covering compliance is based on resource availability and is impacted by the number of reactive calls for service and staff available to do this work,” Anderson says.

Often, non-maskers just jump on a train, knowing they won’t get caught. (Chris Ranta)

Marvin Chai, a health professional who has taken the train to school for the past eight years says he has seen peace officers board fewer than 10 times over that span to check for proof of purchase.

“The large majority of non-maskers tend to just hop on the train, as there is little risk of being caught without a ticket, whereas you are 99 per cent denied service to the bus without a pass.”

‘I’m sure that telling a person who isn’t,
wearing a mask by this time won’t make an impact’

Chai adds that he and other passengers tend to keep to themselves when someone on the train isn’t following COVID protocols.

“I’m sure that telling a person who isn’t wearing a mask by this time won’t make an impact, nor do I want to cause a scene. To effect change like that, you have to be consistent with punishment rather than the severity of punishment.”

The fine for not wearing a face covering under the bylaw is $100.

Much like the patrolling numbers, the number of warnings and tickets issued decreased from January to February. In January, the city issued 1095 warnings and 160 tickets, in February, those numbers fell to 487 and 47.

“Peace officers have a number of different calls for service that can limit the resources available to do proactive patrols,” Anderson said about the volatility seen in the numbers day-to-day. “On certain days, peace officers have had additional staff available on ‘modified duties’ to proactively count compliance and identify problem locations.”

Kanash adds “I think it’s really hard for the city to deal with these incidents. Most bus drivers will mention it to these people, but they don’t want to get into a fight, so if they refuse, it would just be left at that.”

Meanwhile, Chai says he has yet to see a passenger removed, but, as his train was passing a station, he saw a person on the platform being ticketed by a peace officer for not wearing a mask .

“I don’t feel like they’ve done a good job. There is a poster inside the train that says, ‘Stagger where you sit.’ Initially, that policy was mostly upheld. But over time, I suppose people got complacent and there would be two or even three strangers in a booth. It bothers me to see that.”

The bylaw was extended in November, and will remain in effect until Dec. 31, though city council can vote to repeal it at any time.

To file a complaint or concern relating to face-coverings or physical distancing, you can visit the City of Edmonton website, or use the Alberta Health Services complaint form.

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