Covid complacency is hitching a ride on public transport networks right across the country, as hundreds of commuters have stopped masking up. But data shows forgetfulness alone isn’t to blame.
In the last three months, there has been a spike in the number of online searches by people in Victoria, NSW and Queensland for the phrase “masks on public transport”, suggesting there’s confusion over whether mask rules are still in place.
Over the same period, the question, “Are masks required on public transport?” has also had a 300 per cent increase in search frequency across the entire country.
Epidemiologists have recommended the use of masks on public transport since mandates were first introduced at the start of the pandemic.
But despite platform and in-vehicle signage, public service announcements and staff giving masks out to passengers at populated stations, the message that face masks are required on public transport seems to be getting lost – angering mandate-abiding passengers.
Mask-wearing Sydney commuters travelling on the state’s train network have taken to Twitter to convey their frustrations over the lack of mask rule enforcement.
“I contacted Sydney Trains about the lower mask wearing amongst passengers a few weeks ago and was told only the police had the authority to enforce the mandate,” one commuter tweeted.
“Disgraceful. Get the masks back on. Supposed to be mandatory on public transport in NSW but Sydney trains 50/50 with masks on. Saw an employee of state rail today not wearing a mask and wasn’t eating either,” tweeted another.
Some customers were particularly infuriated over ticket inspectors overlooking mask mandates while handing out fines for fare evading.
“Took the train into Sydney today, [for the] first time in years. There was an announcement, masks were mandatory and fines would be issued. So at Strathfield, ticket inspectors got on checked tickets, but people wearing no masks, 80 per cent of them, weren’t issued any fines! What absolute BS!” one customer said.
“The ticket inspectors on a Central Coast train a couple of days ago, pinching some poor kid for no ticket while ignoring the near complete noncompliance with masking. All while the ‘masks are compulsory’ announcement plays in the background,” tweeted another.
News.com.au contacted Transport NSW for comment, and while the spokesperson didn’t say why fines for noncompliance weren’t being handed out regularly, they confirmed that masks are still mandatory in line with NSW’s public health order.
“Transport NSW continues to keep customers informed of the measures they need to take to stay safe on the network,” a spokesperson said.
“Our customer communications highlight mandatory mask wearing on public transport. This includes announcements running across the Sydney Trains network every 10 minutes, as well as physical posters and digital signage on all modes.”
Employees of the state network have also handed out over 1.1 million masks since April this year across transport interchange and station locations, with Victoria also implementing a similar service at its stations last week.
As for the number of fines that have been issued by NSW Police, only 159 infringement notices were handed out in the last six months with 84 per cent distributed at railway stations and 7 per cent on trains.
“The NSW Police Force continue to ensure compliance with Public Health Orders; as part of their daily duties they continue to work with the community and businesses in providing guidance, education and advice to keep the community safe,” a NSW police spokesperson told news.com.au.
“With a key number of Public Health Order restrictions removed in early December 2021, along with an increased emphasis on community education and awareness, it was to be expected that there would be a reduction in the number of penalty notices issued in the months following.”
Face masks are still mandatory on all forms of public transport including trains, buses, ferries, taxis, ride share and planes for passengers 12 and over in all parts of the country except in Victoria, where the recommendation is from eight years and older.
While they are no longer required to be worn in airport terminals, they are mandated at train and bus stations.
Fines for mask mandate noncompliance differ across the country, starting from $100 in Victoria and ranging to more than $700 in Tasmania.
NSW residents aged 18-plus can cop a fine of $500 for failing to comply with a direction to wear a mask or for not having one on hand in mandated settings.
In Queensland, individuals can be slapped with a $1378 fine for noncompliance if they breach a health order, or an on-the-spot penalty of $206 if a person fails to follow police directions to wear a mask.
Exceptions to mask-wearing on public transport apply when a passenger is eating, drinking, has a medical exemption or is communicating with a person who is hearing-impaired.
There are currently 212,834 active Covid-19 cases across the country, with 4103 people in hospital.