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Cleaners demonstrate how they disinfect Sky Train cars in Vancouver, on May 21, 2020.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

People taking public transit in Greater Vancouver will soon be required to wear face coverings, formalizing what had until now been a voluntary measure to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

TransLink chief executive Kevin Desmond said Thursday that the move, which comes into effect on Monday, Aug. 24, is necessary to ensure passengers have confidence getting back on buses, trains and SeaBuses as the province continues to open its various sectors.

“It’s imperative that our customers, as they slowly but surely return to using our services, using public transit, feel safe,” Mr. Desmond said.

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“We want to ensure that we continue to do our part to minimize any potential for community transmission of [COVID-19] on public transit.”

People who are unable to wear face coverings because of a medical condition or disability will not be required to, and have the option of requesting a TransLink-branded card noting their exemption.

Others who will not be required to wear them include those who cannot put on or take off a mask without assistance, children under the age of 5, TransLink employees who are working behind a physical barrier or areas not accessed by the public, and police and other first responders in emergencies.

TransLink’s announcement on Thursday was made in alignment with BC Transit and other transportation agencies.

Mr. Desmond said the emphasis, at this point, will be on education and public awareness over enforcement. Employees will not be expected to enforce the policy, but can choose to remind passengers. Transit police could potentially issue tickets at a later date, if needed.

“Our front-line employees, our bus operators, our SkyTrain attendants, they’re not enforcement agents,” he said. “They’re there to ensure the safety of our customers and good customer service.”

Other jurisdictions that have implemented mandatory mask policies on public transit have seen high rates of compliance. The Toronto Transit Commission, which made masks mandatory on July 2 and which TransLink consulted with in its planning, is at 95-per-cent compliance, spokesman Stuart Green said.

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“We’re extremely pleased with the way TTC customers have responded to the face-covering requirement,” Mr. Green wrote in an e-mail.

“We’re not issuing fines at this point, opting for education over enforcement. And as the numbers show, it’s working extremely well.”

Montreal’s transit authority, Société de transport de Montréal, which made masks mandatory two weeks before a provincewide order mandating masks in all indoor public places, is at 96-per-cent compliance on the Metro and 97 per cent on the bus, spokeswoman Isabelle Tremblay said.

TransLink, which began asking passengers to voluntarily wear face coverings in May and launched a “Wearing is Caring” campaign the following month, has seen about 40-per-cent compliance to date – a figure that “just isn’t enough,” Mr. Desmond said.

Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor’s western regional director, said the union representing transit operators is happy to see any measure that improves public health and gets more people wearing face coverings.

“Our concerns were always that our members would be focused on driving and not enforcing policy, and it’s clear today that that’s going to be case,” he said.

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“We’re concerned about any anti-mask crusaders out there, but we think with education and enforcement by the proper authorities as needed, our members will be safer and so will the public.”

Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said Thursday that she was pleased with the move, calling it a “rational, reasonable thing to do.”

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