At King County Metro, requiring that everyone on transit wear a mask at all times is one of the most critical elements of our layered safety approach. While we have made—and continue to make—many other health enhancements such as daily disinfecting, passenger limits, physical distancing, safety barriers, and upgraded air filters, there is a reason that the large electronic destination signs on our more than 1,400 buses read: “MASKS REQUIRED.”
Passengers not wearing masks is understandably one of the most consistent frustrations for other riders, and for our operators and other frontline employees who wish only to serve their communities during this time of unprecedented challenges.
Masks are especially important because a significant number of people are COVID-19 positive but don’t have symptoms. Masks protect people from both symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19. Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that not only does wearing a mask protect others, it protects you, too. In their words, “Masks also help reduce inhalation of these droplets by the wearer.”
Reaching every rider
Since we began requiring masks in May guided by a county-wide public health directive, we’ve continually asked our passengers to mask up through advertising on radio stations and websites, emails, social media posts, and text alerts. Additionally, while our customers wait for and ride transit, the mask requirement—and other safety reminders—are on bus stop and ferry terminal signs, advertising on the sides of our buses, front- and rear-door decals, seat signs, onboard posters, and a public address announcement by King County Public Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin.
To make safe riding even safer, we installed free mask dispensers on our busiest routes: the RapidRide A and F lines, and routes 7, 36,43, 44, and 49. We’re now expanding the program to even more routes that have high ridership and/or lower mask usage. You’ll soon see mask dispensers added to the RapidRide D and E Lines, followed by the RapidRide B Line and routes 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, 12, 13, 14, 70, and 120.
As part of our core value of equity, we’ve also provided more than 65,000 free masks to more than 70 community-based organizations across King County to ensure that not having a mask isn’t a barrier to riding transit for our customers with fewer resources.
We’re sometimes asked why we don’t refuse service to passengers not wearing a mask. Since the goal of our mask requirement is to increase the safety of our operators and passengers, the hard truth is that asking our operators to enforce mask-wearing increases the chances of conflict and would unfortunately put our operators and others at risk.
Redoubling and refining our approach
While the vast majority of passengers currently wear masks—and we thank them for doing so, we recently redoubled our commitment to get even more of our riders to join them.
Moving forward, Metro’s efforts—which initially focused on informing and reminding—will increasingly shift to convincing. Unlike in May, almost everyone in King County now knows what constitutes a face covering and that county- and state-wide mask requirements exist. However, too many still need a reason to comply.
During the weeks and months ahead, you’ll hear new public address announcements voiced by our own employees, discover creative social media campaigns that further implore passengers (e.g., “We heart your mask. And our operators do, too.”), and see signs and videos that focus not just on the benefit of mask wearing to others but to the wearer, too.
Varying our approach while still utilizing Metro’s many channels is intentional since a recent University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business study demonstrated that while messages that focus on masks protecting others are effective in convincing some audiences, others need to hear that they themselves will benefit before masking up. That’s why you’ll see both approaches—as well as innovative reminders designed to earn riders’ attention amid what we know is a frenetic media environment.
Metro’s frontline employees are among the heroes of the ongoing pandemic and put the safety of their passengers first every single day. The best way to thank them is by wearing a mask and protecting their health.
Learn more about how Metro is keeping you safe and how you can help at kingcounty.gov/HealthierMetro