Few on Metro Vancouver transit masking up post-mandate: crowd-sourced data

A transit passenger wearing a protective face mask is reflected in the window of a bus as he waits to board in Vancouver on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

TransLink riders are reporting that mask-wearing is now the norm on about two in 10 trips, a rate far lower than cities in which mandates remain in effect.

Transit app began collecting crowd-sourced data from users across Canada and the U.S. in mid-April, soon after mandates began being lifted in some jurisdictions. Metro Vancouver dropped the requirement on March 11, when the province ended the mandate for indoor public spaces.

"Because of that sudden change in rules, we wanted to provide some actual data to help people understand if this was having an impact on what people were seeing on the ground," explains Transit app spokesperson Stephen Miller.

"It's really just about getting reliable information of what people are seeing when they're on board."

Riders who have the app are asked once per trip if "most," "some," or "few" people are wearing masks. The app has a dashboard showing the per cent of trips where people answered "most."

Since the survey launched in mid-April, results for TransLink have ranged from a high of 24 per cent to a low of 16 per cent.

At the same time, the rate of mask-wearing has varied but generally remained much higher in cities where the requirement has remained in effect like Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton.

Montreal has the highest rate of trips where most users are masked, hovering around the 90 per cent mark since the surveys began. In Quebec, unlike other Canadian provinces, masks remain mandatory in all indoor public spaces.

"It's unlike other places where there may not be an indoor mask requirement outside of public transit," Miller explains.

In other Canadian cities, the mandate is not universal but remains in effect for transit.

In Toronto, the rate of trips on which most people are masked has ranged from a low of 63 per cent to a high of 74 per cent. In Edmonton, it's been between 57 and 75 per cent. In Calgary, it's been between 37 and 50 per cent.

Miller says collecting and providing this information is something that is in line with the app's goal of giving riders the chance to provide feedback about their overall experience so that other riders can make more informed decisions. He says the data for Vancouver is based on feedback from about 1,000 riders a day.

"We think it's a pretty broad sample of the folks who are riding public transit," he says.

"We think it's a fairly good indication of what people are experiencing out there."

At the last meeting of TransLink's board, which was on March 24, several people signed up to speak in favour of reinstating a mandate.

Daryl Dela Cruz was one of them. The data from the app, he says, just shows how much of a difference a mandate can make.

Earlier this year, as other provinces eased restrictions, he started a petition asking for the mask mandate to remain in effect on transit. 

"I'm on the system every day. I have a vested interest in being safe," he tells CTV News, saying that is why he has taken up this issue.

"I'm trying to use the system and I just, I would certainly like to see all measures taken so that everybody can get around safely."

But beyond personal interest, Dela Cruz says it's an equity issue because transit is used by so many people who don't have the option to work from home and don’t have the option of driving.

While transit mandates in Ontario and Alberta have come from the provincial government, Dela Cruz says he thinks the transit authority could act independently. In 2020, TransLink made masks mandatory in August, while a B.C.-wide order didn’t come into effect until November.

"It disappoints me that even though they had the opportunity to introduce their own mask mandate, they haven't done that. They've instead stuck to a recommendation, which is clearly not working," he says.

TransLink's current mask guidance says "customers are welcome to wear a mask or face covering based on individual level of comfort."

Masks remain mandatory on HandyDart.