More changes coming to transit. Starting tomorrow, July 24, masks will be mandatory. This is enshrined in the Provincial health order and also applies to taxis. Riders are responsible for bringing their own masks, but HRM has a large stockpile that the municipality will be giving away at pop-up events to try and help make sure that not having a mask doesn’t become a disproportionate burden on users.
There has been a significant increase in transit ridership over the last two weeks as more businesses and offices reopen, which has made managing the reduced passenger capacity on buses and ferries due to COVID challenging. I received multiple complaints about the Alderney Ferry being fully loaded and people being left behind on Friday, but overloads haven’t been limited to just the ferries. Mandatory masks allows HRM to solve the overload problem by lifting capacity restrictions. Capacity on ferries and buses will return to pre-COVID levels as of August 1. The return of regular passenger capacity is coming a week after mandatory masks to give people time to adapt to mask wearing. The idea is that the increased risk from carrying more passengers will be mitigated by the increased protection provided by mandatory masks. So wear your mask! Having space for everyone to get to where they need to go depends on it.
I have heard concerns regarding whether people will actually wear masks. Based on how Nova Scotians have generally responded to COVID, it’s clear that most people want to do the right thing. Compliance is never 100%, but most people want to follow reasonable rules. I’m confident that mask use will be fairly widespread, but it’s not going to be 100%. There are people who do have medical reasons to not wear masks and, unfortunately, there are some people who just don’t want to accept masks as necessary. It’s the later group that’s really hard to deal with.
I have spoken with Transit on this, and the feeling is that most people will comply, and that the level of risk around mask compliance is sufficient for our current situation where we’re not seeing COVID spreading in our community. We have to be on our guard as COVID hasn’t gone away and is very much present just beyond our borders elsewhere in Canada and in the United States. Our best outcome is to have no further outbreaks of community spread, not to have zero cases forever and we all have a part to play in helping make sure that happens. My instinct on masks is that mandatory should mean, well, mandatory, but we’ll see how this unfolds. Transit’s approach to masks and compliance really isn’t that much different than the situation around fares and we don’t have a significant problem of fare dodging. HRM can revisit the issue if need be.
It’s important to note that the whole approach around transit is very much based on our current COVID situation and is, therefore, very much subject to change. Capacity restrictions could return if we see an uptick in COVID infections. HRM will continue to engage with Public Heath as we collectively try to allow for life to carry on while minimizing the risk that COVID poses.
Along with the lifting of capacity restrictions, and mandatory masks, fare collection will resume on August 1. All buses will have polycarbonate shields in place by then, allowing people to once again board at the front of the bus and pay a fare without coming too close to the the driver. To better manage distancing, passengers are being asked to disembark via the rear doors when possible. HRM will be honouring March and April bus passes until August 31.
It’s worth noting that with the resumption of fares, HRM’s Low Income Transit Program is resuming as well. Current participants are able to continue purchasing passes for August and September. HRM is accepting new applications for 2020/2021 now. You can apply via mail or email or in person as of August 4 at HRM’s reopening Customer Service Centre in Alderney Gate. Details on the Low Income Transit Program are available here.
Residential Parking Permits:
With the return of normal parking operations in HRM, residential permit passes that expired during March – July will be officially no good after Monday, August 31. Residential permit parking restrictions will be fully enforced as of Tuesday September 1. If you have an expired pass, you can renew it at Alderney Gate when the Customer Service Centre reopens on August 4.
COVID has affected all of us. It’s disrupted our whole society including our work, and social lives. People have made the best of it in various ways. I wanted to plug one such “making the best of it” art project on Pleasant where a pop-up art installation of Acorn people has taken over the trees. Scenes of fairiess, pool and tennis players, and more. Well done Dawn Asprey!!! Thanks for adding a touch of the whimsical to the walk along Pleasant Street. You can find the acorn people near the intersection of Pleasant and St. George’s Lane in front of 63 and 65 Pleasant.