Health transport

PT mask rules around Australia

The continuing use of masks on public transport came up last week when Premier Andrews remarked that they’d be around for some time yet.

(For a segment on this topic on ABC Radio Melbourne last Thursday with me, listen here – it starts at roughly at 1:55:40.)

So I thought I’d quickly review what the situation is around the country.

WA: Transperth: until further notice masks are mandatory on all Transperth services, unless you have an exemption.

SA: Adelaide Metro: Passengers using public transport are required to wear face masks while on-board, waiting at stations or transiting through.

NT: The web site doesn’t currently mention masks.

Qld: Translink: Face masks are mandatory when travelling on public transport, excluding on dedicated school bus services, throughout all of Queensland as per the Queensland Health directive

NSW: Transport for NSW: Face masks are mandatory on public transport and point to point services, which includes taxis, rideshare and hire car services, across NSW. Fines will apply.

ACT: Transport Canberra: Wearing of masks on board buses and light rail is mandatory for people 12 years and over.

Tas: Transport Services: You must wear a face mask on public transport

Vic: PTV: You must wear a fitted face mask covering your nose and mouth on public transport – ensure you wear it for your entire journey.

Education and enforcement?

So the rules are pretty clear. Apart from NT, every state has mandatory masks on public transport.

My view is you have to take these rules at face value. They are based on health advice, and I’m not a health expert, so I accept it.

It’s not hard to see that in some cases, public transport can get very crowded, passengers may include unvaccinated and immuno-compromised people, and most vehicles don’t have opening windows. So in the context of COVID-19 being a serious, widespread, airborne disease, masks make sense.

However what we’re seeing in Victoria is that compliance has slipped, particularly outside peak hours, and noticeably since masks became optional in retail settings.

And enforcement, which can be done by police, PSOs or Authorised Officers, seems rare, with no shortage of reports that officers mostly ignore unmasked passengers.

Masked PSOs walk through a train carriage, passing unmasked train passengers

Enforcement isn’t always the best option. In the past there was proactive distribution of masks, but this seems less common now, though they are still available at staffed stations. Perhaps this should be stepped up again.

And mask signage has long been an issue – it’s quite prominent on stations and on buses and trams, but rare on the trains.

Aside from masks, authorities should be making every effort to ensure good circulation on-board vehicles. This could include opening windows where they are available (mostly on buses and trams), and adjusting air-conditioning systems. They might be doing some of this, but they’re not really talking about it.

COVID is going to be with us for some time, and mask rules have helped ensure that around the world, public transport has not been a big contributor to it spreading.

So as the system gets busier, and crowding returns, I can totally understand that mask rules may stick around. But if we have them, they should be communicated, encouraged and enforced appropriately.

Update 22/4/2022: Some rules are changing tonight, but masks remain on public transport. Comments to 3AW from Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton: “You’re in a crowded space and there’s a lot of rebreathing of other people’s air, so it is a good idea to wear a mask on public transport in particular.”

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

12 replies on “PT mask rules around Australia”

There is never going to be close to full compliance on PT for as long as Victoria has flimsy rules about medical exemptions from mask requirements. Anybody who doesn’t want to wear a mask can tell an enforcement officer that they are medically exempt, to which the officer must accept their word, and cannot request any evidence.

As it was in some areas compared to others, masking on some tram routes and train lines can be so variable. Sometimes you will look around and almost everyone will be masked. Other times, very few. Masking announcements on trams are few and far between. I’ve never heard one on a suburban train. I think frequent public announcements would help with compliance along with visible enforcement. In the medium future, I think I will always wear a mask on busy public transport. Enforcement is not a good tool? During our first long Covid lockdown we were fearful of large fines and felt so nervous when on occasions we travelled a couple of hundred metres further than the five kilometre limit to Elwood Beach.

Rather than masking signs, Metro Trains would rather stick ‘Keep your distance’ signs on windows at the exact eye level to block a view from the train window. I confess to having ripping a few off. People always keep their distance as best they can on public transport until they can’t.

I can’t agree with the statement of masking being optional in retail areas, no matter what the regulation says. It is simply not required but while staff must continue to wear masks, and though even with them compliance has slipped, so will I continue to mask if not my own benefit, as respect to staff who have to mask.

I suspect it’s impossible to know, but I’m curious how much the ongoing public transport mask mandates are depressing usage (especially given the generally low compliance and lack of enforcement). While I’m very suspicious of any polling on this issue (polls tend to show broad support for mask mandates, but as soon as they end, usage plummets), the Property Council of Australia said 61% of their WA members are choosing to work from home due to mask requirements (granted, wearing a mask during one’s commute is less of a burden than doing so all day in an office;

The problem is there is a fine line between enforcement and wearing the population out. After huge lockdowns and curfews I can see why people are reluctant.
If the virus is going to be around for a while, then there is some out of the box thinking needed by the government. Squishing people onto trains and blasting announcements over the speakers to wear masks is not it.

On my commute this morning I completely forgot to put my mask on between armadale and richmond – the podcast i wa slistening to was quite engaging, and I just totally forgot. Had it in my pocket and sheepishly put it on at Richmond :D I’d wager on frankston line mask wearing is about 2/3rds so not awful.

I generally favour revoking rules rather than simply not enforcing them but maybe there is a certain cynical wisdom to allowing rule-breaking here. It keeps the pro-mandate faction satisfied with comforting regulation without really bugging folks too much. Ditto vaccination requirements where venues only require a pdf of a certificate regardless whether it’s real or if it matches the person’s ID. It is kind of a middle-way between actual mandates and revoking mandates.

Michael, I am not sure where the squishing people on to public transport came from, but one of the best personal protections against Covid does seem to be mask wearing. I am also a little puzzled about blasting out announcements on public transport. Colourful and emotive expression can work at times but needs to be used carefully. An announcement perhaps every twenty minutes at normal volume on all public transport would would be adequate.

In WA, masks are still mandatory on all forms of public transport including rideshare, taxi. I am an Uber driver and find great difficulty in asking passengers to wear a mask. 1/3 hop on with a mask on, 1/3 put it on when I ask,1/3 actively refuse with excuses: I’m double vaxed, I’m from Melbourne and those rules don’t apply, why do I have to wear a mask?

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