Kelowna

Nobody has been tasked with enforcing BC Transit's mandatory mask order.

A lack of enforcement for mandatory masks on transit buses could result in passenger conflicts, says the head of the Kelowna transit union.

Al Peressini, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722, said he’s happy with a BC Transit edict making masks a must for passengers starting on Aug. 24. However, he said there’s no one to police the policy to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“There’s no way that our drivers will be enforcing it at all,” he said.

“My biggest concern is if it’s mandatory and there’s nobody from BC Transit enforcing it, the passengers will want to start enforcing it amongst themselves. And all of a sudden we have a conflict between passengers.”

Peressini said drivers also don’t enforce fares due to the risk of conflict.

“I hope that just at the start it’s educational, and then somewhere along the line they have people enforcing it,” he said, adding that city bylaw officers or other BC Transit staff could be tasked with the job.

In the meantime, he said he’d like BC Transit to supply ample notices to put up at terminals. He’d also like to see BC Transit assign staff to booths at main stations to hand out masks on the first few days of the policy change.

“I don’t think it’s going to be that hard of a sell for the public to wear a mask while they’re on a bus,” he said. “I’m noticing more and more passengers are wearing masks.”

Kelowna’s regional transit system is operated by BC Transit in co-operation with the municipalities of Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, and Lake Country.

Passengers, with the exceptions of children under five and those with health conditions.

Promotional face coverings will be handed out on buses in the coming weeks, BC Transit said.

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has encouraged people to wear masks when indoors or in confined spaces where it may not always be possible to practice physical distancing – such as a bus.

Peressini said he hasn’t heard whether drivers will also be required to wear masks — though he doesn’t expect them to because they’re already behind safety barriers.

Currently, drivers can wear masks if they want – but some don’t because it fogs up their glasses.

There is “quite a number” of bus drivers who are off work because they have weakened immune systems or family that’s at high risk. However, that’s not yet having a service impact.

At this point, about 30 passengers are allowed on a full-sized bus, up from 10-12 early on in the pandemic.

Ridership on Kelowna-area buses plunged 70 per cent in April compared to the same month in 2019 as the pandemic shut things down. By early July, ridership had recovered to about 60 per cent of normal summer levels.

This fall, UBC Okanagan and Okanagan College are moving to online only programs, meaning ridership in September will be well below usual fall volumes. As a result, transit service will be cut by nearly 10,000 hours.

Overall, Peressini said he just wants people to get along.

“I just hope everyone’s respectful of each other. Don a mask, get on board, and enjoy the ride,” he said.

— with files from Ron Seymour