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.
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.
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.
Also July 2021 – Authorised Officers patrolling trains with a bulk pack of disposable masks on hand. pic.twitter.com/0MNWTSgOt8— Marcus Wong (@aussiewongm) April 14, 2022
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.”