Robert Khodadadian – Commercial Observer

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s more than 2-year-old mask mandate on subways, commuter trains and buses is officially no more than “optional.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who exerts executive control over the state agency, told New Yorkers on Wednesday that a face covering will no longer be enforced on MTA subways, buses and trains. The announcement came during a briefing on her administration’s ongoing response to COVID-19.

“We have to restore some normalcy to our lives,” Hochul said during the briefing. “Basically, we’re going from mandatory to optional.”

The MTA did not immediately confirm whether the mask mandate would continue for MTA employees.

Hochul’s lifting of the mask mandate comes as dozens of companies in the city, especially on Wall Street, began calling workers back into the office more regularly. These include Goldman Sachs, which removed all of its COVID-19 restrictions in its offices, a move seen by some as a push to get all  employees to return five days a week.

MTA chair Janno Lieber, during a press conference Wednesday, said New York City Transit had seen a 26 percent increase in post-Labor Day ridership compared to last year.

”In addition to students, we’re obviously we’re welcoming back workers, whether they’re full time, part time, hybrid, full time,” Lieber said. “There’s no conformity here it’s all about personal choice.  Personal choice is the watchword. Now masks are gonna continue to be available at all of the subway — I still call them token booths. The station agents will have those.”

The mandate was put into effect in April 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic started to become a serious issue for the agency which began to lose a disproportionate number of employees to the virus. Up to 151 transit workers had died from COVID-19 as of March 2021. The MTA did not immediately provided updated statistics on the number of deaths its workforce sustained.

Prior to April 2020, as the spread of the disease ramped up, MTA stated it was following health recommendations and resisted calls for a mandate — a major point of contention between the agency under the leadership of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former chairman Patrick Foye and union leaders, particularly Transport Workers Union Local 100.

After an alarming number of workers fell ill and dozens died, the agency came to fully embrace a mask mandate, even enacting $50 fines enforced by the New York City Police Department and MTA Police for riders not wearing a mask.

The agency turned to posters and handed out free masks to riders, but debate around the efficacy of the mandate persisted, especially as law enforcement officers themselves were commonly spotted without face coverings.

State leaders stuck with the mandate months after the Centers for Disease Control lifted its rule requiring masks on public transit in April.

In June, the MTA removed the posters informing riders of the requirement. During a Tuesday press conference showcasing new ceiling heights in Pennsylvania Station, Hochul let slip that the mandate would soon be a thing of the past.

Mark Hallum can be reached at mhallum@commercialobserver.com.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s more than 2-year-old mask mandate on subways, commuter trains and buses is officially no more than “optional.” Gov. Kathy Hochul, who exerts executive control over the state agency, told New Yorkers on Wednesday that a face covering will no longer be enforced on MTA subways, buses and trains. The announcement cameRead MoreChannel, Politics & Real Estate, Andrew Cuomo, Centers for Disease Control, Goldman Sachs, Kathy Hochul, MTA, Pennsylvania Station, Transport Workers Union Local 100

Robert Khodadadian, skyline properties, ground leases

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