NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Is it a COVID safety rule or a marketing strategy?
A new mask mandate with fines is now in effect for New York City subways, as the MTA chairman tries to get ridership - worse than the Great Depression - back on the rails.
As CBS2's John Dias reports, packed subway cars and screeching noises are back. Mass transit commutes slowly are starting to look more normal, but part of that new normal are masks.
Starting Monday, New Yorkers better cover up, or pay up.
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"Everyone has got to wear a mask to protect themselves," one rider said.
"I wear a mask every time," said another.
The MTA is now fining people $50 if they don't mask up to keep the coronavirus from spreading. Some argue it's a marketing tool to get more people to ride the rails after record low numbers, and convince people they don't need to drive, that mass transit is safe.
But will it work?
"I'm finding, still today, people who do need to use the subway don't want to use it," said rider Louise Phillips Forbes.
Mask compliance is already high. Monday, Dias only spotted a few people not wearing one or wearing it incorrectly, but didn't see any MTA officers enforcing the rules, like they promised.
"I would hope it wouldn't be necessary because people would respect their fellow riders. However, if it needs to be enforced, I would respect it," said rider Chris Forbes.
"I've been riding the subway for six months, and New York City is respecting it," said rider Greg Riley.
And when commuters don't?
"I don't feel safe. I go sit somewhere else where there is less people," one rider from the Bronx said.
"I always feel much safer when I'm in a subway car and I see everyone wearing masks. Whenever I see anyone without them, I get a little nervous and anxious," rider Anette Fletcher said.
"Everyone needs to get on board," another rider added.
"If they enforce it, super. And if they don't, it's OK, because it's on everybody," said rider Lena Rizkallah.
The MTA says that with regular overnight cleaning of subways, buses and stations, there hasn't been a single COVID cluster trace back to mass transit here. But ridership is still down drastically and MTA Chairman Pat Foye says the MTA needs an additional $12 billion from Washington, or else.
"We may have to cut subway and bus service... up to 40% and lay off about 7,400 employees, and up to 50% service reduction on Metro North and Long Island Rail Road. Those cuts would be devastating," Foye said.
A spokesperson with the Transport Workers Union called this a "big victory," and said they had been demanding and advocating for this for months.
"What we're doing is using another tool in our toolbox to get mask compliance. We're going to do everything we possibly can to make sure everyone in the system is wearing a mask," said Interim Transit Authority President Sarah Feinberg.
The agency has been handing out free masks and installing vending machines with PPE.
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