MARTA to distribute 2 million masks beginning Monday

MARTA will begin distributing up to two million disposable masks to customers Monday as it seeks to protect passengers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The agency will give away masks from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on weekdays at its transit stations across metro Atlanta. It will consider expanding the distribution to weeknights and weekends based on ridership demand, MARTA said in announcing the move Friday.

But the agency stopped short of requiring masks to board MARTA trains and buses.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, we have instituted safety precautions and new cleaning protocols in order to continue providing essential transit service while protecting our customers and employees,” CEO Jeffrey Parker said in announcing the move. “We are now asking our customers to join us in helping to stop the spread of this virus by wearing a mask while on MARTA.”

Metro Atlanta transit agencies have not required customers to wear masks during the pandemic, and some doubt they can legally do so. But as the number of COVID-19 cases surges, they are still searching for ways to keep customers safe while providing service to low-income residents, essential workers and others who rely on transit.

Among other things, the agencies have stepped up cleaning of buses, trains and stations. MARTA also has eliminated most bus routes to focus service on heavily used corridors. The move has helped provide enough buses on those routes to allow for fewer passengers per bus and encourage social distancing.

Beginning Monday, MARTA customers will be able to get masks from uniformed station agents or from volunteers wearing a red “Team MARTA” shirt. Each customer will select an individual mask from a tissue-like dispenser.

Volunteers from transit advocacy groups including the MARTA Army and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition also will participate.

“We appreciate those riders who are wearing masks and understand you may not have access to masks or there may be a day you forget yours,” Parker said. “We want you to know we’ve got you covered and to please take and wear a mask before boarding a bus or train.”