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Despite President Joe Biden's Transportation Mask Mandate, Metra Not Confronting Violators

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It's been a problem since the early days of the pandemic: public transit passengers not following masking rules.

President Biden signed a transportation mask mandate to try to fix that problem, but some Metra riders say that hasn't done much.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas asked what's being done to enforce the rules.

Before she walks to her office in the Loop, Cynthia takes a Metra train into Union Station, and she often doesn't like what she sees.

"Some of them have it pushed underneath their chin. Some people don't have it in at all. Some of them have it pushed underneath their chin. Some don't have it in at all," she said.

She even snapped some photos of passengers not wearing masks.

Metra has told passengers to mask up since Gov. JB Pritzker's executive order back in May, and now President Biden signed an order as well.

"While the conductors are great guys and they're just doing their job, they told me they don't have the authority to force people to do that," Cynthia said.

In fact, Cynthia – who asked us not to use her last name – recorded one such conversation last week.

"It's a national order on all forms of transportation," Cynthia told the conductor on her train.

"You're absolutely right, it is, but Metra has told us they are not going to enforce it," the conductor said.

We asked Metra about enforcement, and a spokesperson said they "seek compliance with the mandates through information and education, not through confrontation with violators, especially physical confrontation, which could possibly endanger our employees."

They also said they won't sell tickets to people who aren't wearing a mask.

"I do apologize, I wish there was more I could do," the conductor told Cynthia.

That conductor went on to say he would go remind the passenger to put a mask on.

"They should make the person get off at the next stop if they're not gonna ride the train with a mask," Cynthia said.

The Transportation Security Administration has the authority to fine people who don't follow the federal mandate. They said they've issued guidance to Metra and other transit agencies on how or when to report problems to TSA.

A spokesperson said if someone refuses to wear a mask, a transit service can escort them off or deny them boarding. If the situation escalates, the staff can call local police.

Once that's resolved, the transit service can call the TSA for an investigation and possible civil penalty.

"Enforcing the federal law is tricky, because of course personnel on trains want to keep a safe distance themselves. They're not empowered with police power, so to speak," said Joe Schwieterman, a transportation professor at DePaul University.


"You don't know who is contagious and who is not," Cynthia said.

But Cynthia hopes they can find a way.

Metra says they have not referred any complaints to TSA, because they haven't had any incidents that escalated to that level. They added that most of their passengers wear masks.

We also asked TSA if any fines have been issued in Illinois or anywhere in the country. They said they don't have any information on that yet.

Unfortunately, that doesn't make passengers like Cynthia feel any better about riding the train.

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