The loose enforcement of public transport mask mandate

The arrival of tourists from other countries where it is no longer mandatory, locals' relaxation and the lack of sanctions lead to token use of masks

3 min
Most of the passengers in a Barcelona subway train and a female worker, without a mask, in a picture taken this week

Barcelona"As inspectors, we can only recommend wearing a mask inside carriages. We have no power to force or sanction anyone who breaks the rule," explains a TMB worker on the platform of Liceu station, on line 3, which until August 17 acts almost as the end of the line, since work is being done on Drassanes station and there is no service between Liceu and Paral·lel. It is a good place to check how many people observe the mask mandate inside trains, as well as follow the advice to wear masks on platforms, since there is more staff helping travellers. Private security guards don't have the power to force or sanction travellers either; they give passengers information on the disruption to the metro line, but not one of the thirty-three unmasked people who enter the station during the four-minute wait for the next train are reminded of the rules regarding masks.

"The company points out that it is a matter of respect and social awareness," the ticket inspector insists. "For me, to protect my health as much as possible, I would also like the rule to be enforced," he explains. "I'm making a short trip, two stops, I don't think anything will happen if I don't wear it," says Conchita, who has a mask inside her bag, but doesn't plan to use it. "I feel safe," justifies a Swedish tourist travelling with two friends. None of them are wearing masks. On Diagonal station platform, sixteen out of twenty people are not wearing one. Inside the train, the ratio improves a little, but not much either: twelve out of twenty passengers are wearing one. "In our country it is not compulsory, it seems an obsolete measure to us," argues João. "I carry it in my backpack and if I am asked to wear it, I will," says Sònia. Four German tourists in their mid-twenties who get off at Catalunya are all wearing masks "covering nose and mouth", as recommended by the insistent but ineffective recording played on the public address system. A few meters away are three Argentinean friends; two unmasked, one masked.

Barcelona subway users on the Passeig de Gràcia platform.

Repeated recommendations

The recommendations over the public address system are repeated and eloquent. Also on social media. On Barcelona Metropolitan Transport's Twitter there are appeals like the one posted yesterday, August 10: "Thank you for wearing a mask on the bus and metro. It is mandatory inside the train and bus. Remember that it always has to cover nose and mouth". What the company's community manager does not respond to is the frequent messages it receives about these recommendations. Of the six responses to this tweet, none of them received an official response. The previous tweet reminding of the mandatory nature is from August 8 and it is exactly the same.

On Ferrocarriles de la Generalitat's Twitter account, the last tweet recalling the ban is from August 3. This community manager, on the other hand, is more diligent with complaints from users who do not understand that there is no way to enforce the ban. So, for example, Míriam Prieto, just today, wrote this tweet: "I just saw when I got on in Terrassa a security guard inside the train and in my carriage a lot of people were not wearing masks. How is it possible?" And FGC responds: "Good morning, Míriam. Remember that you have at your disposal the FGC anti-social behaviour app; in this way the FGC Command Center is alerted directly, and the information is processed and acted upon depending on the type of alert." Many other users make similar complaints, also about the absence of security guards and the low intensity of the AC, and the response is not so extensive and is limited to one "We take note, thank you".

Anna Ripoll i Borràs's tweet sums up many people's feelings: "I continue to assert that people do what they want. This obligatory nature must be removed, I will continue to wear a mask, but I will feel less of an idiot".

Passengers in the Barcelona subway, most of them without masks.