TARTA tells riders to cover faces

Published: Apr. 9, 2020 at 10:06 PM EDT
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TARTA has made a series of changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Thursday, the transit agency announced an additional measure: passengers will be required to wear masks or face coverings.

As COVID-19 continues to infect more and more Americans every day, government bodies have taken increasingly strict measures to flatten the curve.

As a provider of transportation, TARTA continues to operate during the stay-at-home order.

"TARTA riders are going to be required to wear a face covering or mask effective this Saturday," Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said.

"If I didn't have TARTA, I don't know what I would do because that's the only transportation I have right now," said TARTA rider Etoy Aaron.

Aaron is an essential worker. She wears gloves on the bus, but she was not sporting a mask Thursday.

"I'm getting some made, I pick them up tomorrow," Aaron said.

She thinks TARTA should have taken this action sooner.

"We have to think about ourselves and other people," she said.

But requiring public transit riders to wear masks would ordinarily be a civil rights violation.

"There's a long history in both the United States and Ohio of the government being able to prevent certain things, especially in times of war or extreme scenarios of public danger similar to what we find ourselves in now," attorney Dennis Sawan said.

Since TARTA is working in conjunction with the Toledo Lucas County Health Department, it's unlikely this rule would be found unconstitutional. But even if someone wanted to fight this new rule, or any of the others popping up lately, it would be difficult, as the courts are currently functioning on an extremely limited basis.

"Under Ohio law, the department of health is empowered to make rules under the circumstances that would curtail some level of personal freedom," Sawan said.

"I suspect that the Supreme Court will say that in circumstances like this, an erosion of civil rights is acceptable to some level," he added.

According to a press release, TARTA continues to transport 1,500-1,600 riders daily in the Metro Toledo region.

“Our top priority is to protect our employees and bus riders,” TARTA general manager Kimberly Dunham said in the press release. “We have taken swift action, often before the transit industry at large, by implementing protective protocols such as fare free, rear door boarding, 10 passenger limit per fixed route bus, shadow service for overflow, and social distancing barrier between the driver and riders. I credit our strong partnership with labor leaders representing TARTA employees and our collective goal of protecting our people as part of our success during this crisis.”

According to TARTA, riders can wear a bandana, handkerchief, or piece of cloth to cover their face and nose.