NEW YORK — A day after a federal judge voided the nationwide mask mandate on public transportation, passengers were encountering a patchwork of rules across the U.S. as some transit agencies and ground transportation companies were left to decide their own policies.
At Moynihan Train Hall, where Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road operate, many travelers were without masks Tuesday after Amtrak decided to lift its own mandate. Robyn Baun, who was returning to Buffalo, said the news made her uneasy.
“I was feeling a bit of whiplash,” Baun told USA TODAY. “The pandemic isn’t over and when mandates are lifted, cases tend to rise. So knowing the mandate safety net could be lifted mid-trip was disorienting.”
Adel Lami, who was riding the Q train headed to 34th Street Heard Square, decided to stop wearing a mask about two weeks ago after returning from a trip in Europe.
“Because I’m vaccinated three shots, I don’t feel the need for a mask,” said Lami, a dancer who lives on the Upper East Side.
She added: “It should be a personal choice.”
Airlines have dropped their mask mandates. But where are masks still required?
New York City’s public transit system said Tuesday it plans to keep its mask requirement in place on city buses, subway trains and two commuter rail lines. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is following a directive from the state department of health, MTA spokesperson Tim Minton said.
The MTA is one of many public transit agencies and other ground transportation companies, like Uber and Lyft, grappling with the fallout from a judge’s order Monday that canceled the federal mandate, leaving a patchwork of policies for commuters across the country.
The federal mask mandate, first implemented in January 2021, was set to expire Monday but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week it would extend it for 15 days.
Then on Monday, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa voided the mandate, saying the rule exceeded the CDC’s authority and that the agency failed to justify the order and didn’t follow proper rulemaking procedures.
Not long after, The Transportation Security Administration announced it would no longer enforce the policy, which applied to airplanes, airports, taxis and other mass transit. A Biden administration official said federal agencies are reviewing the decision and assessing potential next steps.
Many major airlines immediately dropped their mask mandates. Airlines had lobbied for months to kill the requirement citing air filters they say make transmission of COVID-19 highly unlikely during a flight.
Ground transportation companies including Amtrak, Uber and Lyft followed suit.
Meanwhile, mask-wearing requirements on local transit can vary.
NJ Transit, which operates buses and trains connecting stops in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia, will no longer enforce its mask mandate, according to its website. Transit authorities in Philadelphia announced a similar move.
“If the CTA’s policy changes, we will notify customers,” the Chicago Transit Authority said in a statement to USA TODAY. “We ask that customers continue to follow the mask requirement and be considerate of other riders and employees.”
Riders on San Francisco’s network of buses, light rail trains, historic streetcars and cable cars will still be required to wear masks, the city’s transportation agency said on Twitter after the ruling, noting that even when requirements change “masks will be a good option.”
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In Washington, D.C., masks are now optional for riders and employees on trains and buses, according to a statement released Monday.
“Our mask mandate has been based on federal guidance,” general manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld said. “We will continue to monitor this situation as it unfolds, but masks will be optional on Metro property until further notice.”
Contributing:Bailey Schulz and Michael Collins, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
Contact Breaking News Reporter N’dea Yancey-Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg