Beginning Monday, TriMet will require all bus and MAX operators, fare inspectors, maintenance workers, and other employees to wear face masks on the job. The transit agency is also encouraging—though not requiring—its riders to do the same.
The announcement of this new rule comes one day after Gov. Kate Brown released a detailed, phased reopening plan for Oregon, that could see some regions of the state reopen as soon as May 15. That plan for workers at public-facing businesses like restaurants, salons, and retail shops to wear face masks as well.
In a press release sent Friday, TriMet spokesperson Roberta Altstadt wrote that TriMet was “working closely” with the governor’s office to keep public transit safe during the pandemic and the state’s reopening.
“While we expect more guidance from the state in the coming weeks, we are moving forward on the requirement for our employees to wear face coverings,” Altstadt wrote.
TriMet is providing masks—some disposable and some reusable cloth coverings—for its employees, thanks largely to private donations the agency has received. The agency will also require all vendors and contractors it works with to wear masks when working in the presence of others.
The mask requirement is only the most recent of several changes TriMet has made in the last two months, as COVID-19 has reduced its ridership and raised new needs. Ridership is currently down 67 percent from pre-pandemic numbers in February, prompting TriMet to adjust its service frequency on some routes last month.
Only 10-15 riders are allowed on each bus so that they can comply with physical distancing requirements, and MAX riders are asked to keep a six-foot distance between each other. TriMet has also asked people to “save the seats for those who must ride,” and only take transit if it’s necessary for an essential job or other pressing need.
Two weeks ago, TriMet launched a new free shuttle bus that takes riders to an emergency bottle return center in Northwest Portland. The shuttle serves two purposes: Giving a more direct, cost-free route for people who need money the bottle return provides; and freeing up space on other buses and MAX trains for other riders. More than 80 people used the shuttle in its first week.
TriMet has had a more robust bus and MAX cleaning routine since February. If an operator sees someone on their vehicle who’s coughing or displaying other COVID-19 symptoms, that operator is asked to immediately bring the bus or MAX train back to TriMet headquarters, so it can be cleaned using disinfectant foggers. That’s happened at least 26 times since March, according to TriMet.
But some members of TriMet’s operators’ union worry the agency isn’t doing enough to protect its riders or its employees, as the Oregonian reported last month.
In the announcement sent Friday, Altstadt also asked TriMet riders to continue following stay-at-home guidelines—at least until May 15.
“We understand that people are anxious to get out and about, especially with the nice weather,” she wrote. “But we urge people to stay home just a little while longer.”