Starting Monday, the Orange County Transportation Authority will provide commuters on three of its busiest bus routes with free face masks as they come aboard in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Mask dispensers, along with hand sanitzer dispensers, have been installed on buses on Routes 43, 543 and 66. Route 43 runs along Harbor Boulevard from Fullerton to Costa, and Route 543 is the express version of that route. Route 66 runs from Irvine through Santa Ana.
The OCTA last week received 60,000 reusable face coverings from the Federal Transit Administration.
OCTACEO Darrell Johnson, briefing the agency's board of directors on the pilot project on the three routes, said the agency is trying to choose between making disposable or reusable face coverings available.
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"This is going to determine the best option going forward," he said.
OCTA officials are also working with area social services agencies and nonprofits that buy bus passes in bulk on ways to distribute face coverings to riders, Johnson said.
It "has been and continues to be difficult" to enforce the wearing of face coverings on the agency's buses, Johnson told the board of directors. Bus drivers are "coached to use their best judgment" when they encounter a defiant commuter, and they can radio to dispatchers if they need help from sheriff's deputies, Johnson said.
"It's great to hear we're going to make face coverings available to the public," said Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do, who also serves on the OCTA board.
Do requested that staff report back to the board with its policies regarding face coverings on buses and to "clearly define the rules of engagement" when a driver encounters a rider who does not want to comply with the face-covering mandate.
"We will continue to experience tensions with the public" as the crisis continues, Do said, "so we need to protect our employees."
Commuters may also get a face covering at no cost when they buy a bus pass at the agency's headquarters in Orange.
Ridership has held steady at about half the usual pace since the pandemic began, Johnson said. The agency is seeing about 57,000 boardings and was averaging about 120,000 before the pandemic.