Exclusive: MTA police enforce mask mandate in Penn Station

MIDTOWN, Manhattan (WABC) -- MTA police are implementing its mask mandate as ridership on the subway and trains has jumped significantly in recent week.

Even though masks have been required since the start of the pandemic, the mandate hasn't always been enforced.

But now the MTA is putting its crackdown into motion with the first large-scale enforcement of the mask mandate since it was imposed a year ago.

MTA police descended on rush hour commuters in Penn Station, writing $50 tickets to anyone who refused to wear a mask-either in the terminal or onboard the trains.

LIRR commuter Craig West only had to be told once.

"And I had to wear it. And I'm not happy about wearing it, but it's not the biggest deal in the world, you know?" West said.

As more riders return to mass transit, fewer are wearing masks. In recent weeks, compliance has slipped below 90%. Enforcement is intended to reverse the trend.

"As they enter the station we offer them a mask," said MTA Police Chief Joseph McGrann. "If they take the mask but don't put it on a second line of offices will say, 'Please put the mask on.' If they still don't comply and put the mask on by the time they reach the third line of officers, then we write the summons."

The mandate applies across the board-from the subways to the suburban commuter rail lines.

Masks are not required in open-air, above-ground stations.

"We put a lot of effort into trying to get them to realize it's still a rule, it's a law," said MTA Chief Safety Officer Patrick Warren. "And it's for their own health and the health of everyone around them."

MTA police officers ordinarily patrol the commuter lines. Transit enforcement is largely left to the NYPD-which is not enforcing mask wearing.

"Doing it in the transit system, we're stretched a little bit thin," McGrann said. "But we do the best we can."

In the past year, police issued just a few dozen summonses. But you can't measure success by the number of tickets. What really matters is how many people are still wearing masks when the officers aren't around.

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