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Masks are back on BART: Directors vote to reinstate mandate

Some commuters opt to wear respiratory masks during the afternoon commute at Montgomery BART station in San Francisco, Calif. (Getty Images)

Masks will again be required on Bay Area Rapid Transit after a contentious decision from its Board of Directors on Thursday. 

“This is a small thing to ask our riders to continue to do,” said BART Board President Rebecca Saltzman, who proposed the new mandate. “It’s important to continue this requirement to continue protecting our riders.”

In a 7-0 vote, with two board members abstaining, the board on Thursday changed the BART Customer Code of Conduct to include a requirement to wear a mask behind the BART paid area until at least July 18. The mandate won’t apply to people unable to wear one due to a medical condition, nor any kids under age 2.

Local transit agencies dropped their mask mandates last week after a federal judge struck down the nationwide transit mask mandate, prompting the California Department of Health to follow suit. 

The mandate takes effect immediately, but no enforcement other than warnings is planned for the first week to give riders time to adjust, Saltzman said. Over the past two years of the pandemic, the BART police has cited people for not wearing masks only seven times, BART Police Chief Ed Alvarez said at Thursday’s meeting. Instead, most riders are either given masks or escorted off trains for violations of the BART Code of Conduct. 

Saltzman introduced the mandate in part because she’s worried about the risks to vulnerable people and anyone with kids under 5 who aren’t yet eligible for vaccines. 

“The reality is we’re still in the midst of a public health crisis,” Saltzman said. “The intention of this measure is to protect those vulnerable communities.”

It’s not yet clear if other local transit agencies will follow suit with their own mandates, but Saltzman says she plans to reach out the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and other local transit agencies to encourage adopting a regionwide transit mask mandate. Los Angeles County made a similar regionwide decision last week. 

In a statement, SFMTA spokesperson Stephen Chun said that the agency will follow the guidance of San Francisco's Department of Public Health on any mask mandates. Noting that masks are still "strongly recommended" on Muni, Chun pointed to the agency's cleaning and circulation protocols to ensure minimal risk of spread.

"We know SFDPH is closely monitoring the level of community transmission of COVID-19, and we are prepared to pivot quickly at their direction as conditions change," said Chun.

BART board member Robert Raburn said 96% of BART riders comply with mask mandates, and that most have continued to wear a mask even after the mandate was lifted. Instead of mandating masks, he suggested encouraging their use. That proposal was outweighed by a majority of the agency’s board, however.