Although wearing a mask is not yet mandatory in Airdrie's public spaces, the city’s public transit authority is still recommending its riders wear one to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"When you're on a bus, it's nearly impossible to maintain a two-metre physical distance," said Chris MacIssac, Airdrie Transit team leader.
"[Wearing a mask] is a means of prevention and I think it's the most responsible thing a customer can do.”
To help encourage mask-wearing on buses, MacIssac said the Alberta government has provided Airdrie Transit with 46,000 disposable masks for its customers.
We strongly encourage our customers to wear non-medical masks when physical distancing may not be possible. Complimentary disposable masks are available to all Airdrie Transit users. Please see further information on proper mask wearing here: https://t.co/zoqNQoCUvn pic.twitter.com/MLjFquu6Nj— Airdrie Transit (@AirdrieTransit) August 6, 2020
He predicted the first batch would be available for transit users midway through the first week of August. MacIsaac said transit staff will be handing out the masks at the South Transit Terminal – located at 2985 Main Street South – and operators will ensure the masks are also available for pick-up on buses.
The buses will have designated pick-up spots where customers can take a bag containing approximately eight masks, he added.
"That provides them not only with a mask to use for that trip but for any future trips...or for general use,” he said.
Following Airdrie City council’s decision July 28 to not make masks mandatory in public until the city is under “enhanced status” with regard to its number of active COVID-19 cases , MacIssac said transit customers are not required to wear one.
"It would be really challenging for transit itself to ensure customers are complying with the requirements of a mask," he said. "I'm supportive of aligning corporately and not having transit as a standalone entity."
However, MacIssac added Edmonton's model of making masks a necessary condition of using transit is still a possibility in Airdrie.
"It was discussed in council that we could always move in that direction," he said. "We have not made that decision at this point as we don't have masks available onboard the buses today. But as those masks become available, that is something we'll consider."
Current mask usage among Airdrie Transit users varies, according to MacIssac. He said less than one per cent of local transit customers seem to be wearing one, but 45 to 50 per cent of customers on Route 900 – which transports riders to CrossIron Mills mall and the Rundle LRT station in northeast Calgary – have been voluntarily wearing a mask.
He anticipated the number of mask-wearers on Route 900 to “almost double” in the first week of August, given the City of Calgary’s new bylaw mandating masks be worn in public spaces and while using public transit.
"I think that [bylaw], in essence, is going to help increase the masks being worn on transit,” he said. “But there are other areas where I think there is an opportunity for us to educate customers on the importance of wearing a mask."
Calgary's mask bylaw came into effect Aug. 1, but MacIssac explained that for commuters between the two cities, mask usage will depend on the jurisdiction.
"If you were to take the bus from Airdrie into Calgary, you pay an Airdrie Transit fare, and that reflects that portion of your trip,” he said. “Now, if you were to continue into Calgary, you pay Calgary Transit fare, there's a distinct separation between our services, and that will be the same principle when it comes to masks.”
But MacIssac said despite Airdrie not having a mask bylaw, he still strongly recommends Airdronians continue to wear a mask when they depart Calgary to come home.