After a video of police dragging an unmasked man off a SEPTA bus went viral, the agency has reversed a requirement that riders wear face masks and only make essential trips on the system.
“Today’s incident involving the [Philadelphia Police Department] … may be more than just a face-covering enforcement, but it has caused SEPTA to reevaluate whether riders should be required to wear a face covering,” SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel said in an email sent Friday to the transit police force. “We can no longer use a lack of face-covering or traveling for nonessential reasons as a reason to conduct police contact.”
The video was first reported by PlanPhilly.
At this point, SEPTA is urging customers to wear face coverings to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but “those who refuse will not be barred entry to the system.”
There have been multiple incidents of violence on the system in the weeks following the citywide shutdown, including the shooting death of a man on the subway and the assault of a homeless man by a group of teens.
Nestel, in an earlier email, encouraged that officers use SEPTA’s new policies “to your advantage to guide the predators off the system.”
Implementation of the rule caused some confusion since SEPTA did not make a formal announcement informing riders that the request is now a requirement. Aside from a few tweets, many were unaware of such a change.
“We didn’t do enough to get word out to riders ahead of time. We could have communicated this better,” said Andrew Busch, a spokesperson for the agency.