The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has reversed a policy requiring all people using public transportation to wear a mask after a video showing police officers dragging a man off a bus went viral, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Friday.
SEPTA reversed the decision after the original viral video posted to Twitter on Friday and received more than 11 million views in the days following the incident. The mandatory face mask policy, called the “Lifeline Service Schedule,” had went into effect Thursday, less than 24 hours after a SEPTA employee died from the coronavirus.
The video shows several police officers forcibly removing a rider who wasn’t complying with the face mask guidance. In the video, someone can be heard saying “Guys, want a taser?”
When the man was removed from the bus, he said, “I want all y’all’s f—ing badge numbers, too.”
Someone else can be heard saying to the police officers, “Thank you!”
The administration made the policy change when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advised people to wear a face mask to help limit the spread of the deadly coronavirus. It appears there was confusion about whether the original policy change was mandatory or not, as the announcement says the administration was “asking” people to comply.
SEPTA announced service cuts and said it was “now asking all riders to wear masks or other facial coverings, consistent with new CDC guidelines, to protect both riders and operators.”
“If you are not traveling to an essential job or for urgent personal business like a medical appointment, you need to stay home and help us preserve service and space for those who need it most,” SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards said in a press release announcing the original policy change. “Unfortunately, too many people are not cooperating with this request, and they are putting the health and lives of our essential customers and employees at risk.”
New guidance from SEPTA now says it is urging people to comply, but isn’t making it mandatory.
“We URGE all customers to wear a mask or other facial covering when traveling on SEPTA to protect customers and Operators,” the new guidance states. “Surgical masks are being distributed to frontline Operations personnel as part of this effort. Please comply with this request for your protection and the protection of others.”
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney defended the SEPTA employees, saying, “our SEPTA bus drivers are front-line, boots-on-the-ground heroes.”
“When a bus driver says he’s kicked somebody off for any reason, our officers are going to support SEPTA in that effort,” Brian Abernathy, the city’s managing director, said during the city press briefing Friday. “Especially given some of the challenges SEPTA has faced during this crisis.”
Kenney also said it was his understanding that the man was not cited or arrested.
“We are in strange times, and people are reacting in strange ways,” Kenney said. “But I don’t blame the bus driver.”