Ride-along shows Kelowna bus users still refusing to wear masks | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Ride-along shows Kelowna bus users still refusing to wear masks

Most bus riders wore masks Nov. 20 in Kelowna, following the new health order to wear masks in all indoors facilities.

Wearing a mask has long been a request while riding B.C. Transit buses but even now, as transmission rates continue to climb, people seem loath to follow that direction.

At least that was the case during one Kelowna transit ride on Nov. 20.

During the 20-minute bus ride from Rutland to Orchard Park Shopping Centre, five of 11 riders were not wearing masks. An elderly woman left the bus shortly after she got on it, saying she was immune-compromised and couldn’t continue if other riders were not wearing masks. The bus driver told her the policy couldn't be enforced.

On a B.C. Transit bus in Kelowna, Nov. 20.
On a B.C. Transit bus in Kelowna, Nov. 20.

From the shopping centre to downtown, all 10 riders were compliant with the mask policy and most were during the return trip from the downtown Queensway Exchange back to Rutland, with two out of 15 riders not wearing a mask.

Al Peressini, president of the Kelowna transit union, said between 75 to 85 per cent of riders have no issue with the mandated masks. “Some times of the day it’s a lot higher, sometimes it’s a little lower, but with this new order, you have to wear a mask in an indoor public place (which includes public transit),” he said. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued an order Nov. 19, requiring mask use in all public indoor spaces. A mandatory face-covering policy was already implemented by B.C. Transit back in August.

B.C. Transit is looking at putting signs on bus doors saying mask use is required to ride. “I know they still don’t want us confronting passengers but I know down in the Lower Mainland they just say no mask, no ride,” he said, adding Lower Mainland bus drivers have even stopped the bus until the person puts on a mask or called their transit supervisor.

“I don’t know why it’s so hard to wear a mask. It’s a 20 minute ride,” he said.

While there are lingering concerns with the rules, there has also been a 50 per cent dip in ridership.

Fewer students are attending UBC Okanagan this fall, which means the bus ridership has taken a hit, “but we still are having buses that are full, we’re only allowed to carry 30 people,” he said.

Kelowna’s transit system is currently operating under a spring level of service and will stay in that schedule into the new year.

“Right now we do have 10 people laid off but they’re all working regular hours covering for people who are off sick or on vacation,” Peressini said.

The Central Okanagan has roughly 110 buses and 100 drivers and 50 casual employees.

The Downtown Kelowna Queensway Exchange, Nov. 20.
The Downtown Kelowna Queensway Exchange, Nov. 20.

Kelowna bus ridership initially took a 70 per cent dive back in April but has since returned and is now sitting at a 49 per cent decrease compared to this same time last year, said Jerry Dombowsky, Kelowna transit manager.

The city has reduced service but not by much in order to ensure social distancing measures are able to be followed, he said. Dombowsky expects to see an overall decrease in ridership of 40 per cent by the end of the year.

The Interior transit region has seen a decrease of about 50 per cent, echoing the same drop across the province, said Jamie Weiss, public affairs officer with B.C. Transit.

With business temporarily closing, post-secondary education moving online, changing business practices supporting people working from home means that the Southern Interior is seeing that 50 per cent reduction compared to the same time last year since late summer heading into the fall. Weiss said service levels have since returned to standard levels across the province.

“Really during this time we’re focusing on creating that comfortable environment for all the people that choose transit,” he said.

“Obviously there are people that meet the exception for not wearing a face covering. We do have a few exemptions… and if you don’t meet that exemption, our expectation is that people will wear a face covering and will support this and we also ask people not to engage with each other… Many health conditions are not visible and it’s not a good idea to make assumptions about other passengers and their ability to wear a face covering,” Weiss said.

"Transit operators are responsible for the safe operation of their bus. They have always been able to report noncompliance of our mask mandate if they deem it necessary to their transit supervisor/manager. This is the same way they would report any other issue on the bus. We did implement our mandatory face covering policy with an educational focus, and will continue to work hard to promote the policy," according to a B.C. Transit statement.


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