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Commuters applaud mask crackdown, but still skeptical about $50 fine

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday announced an

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday announced an executive order to issue $50 fines to LIRR commuters not wearing masks. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Long Island Rail Road commuters applauded the MTA’s planned crackdown on transit riders refusing to wear masks, while also expressing skepticism that many fines will be doled out.

After Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced an executive order to issue $50 fines to noncompliant LIRR, city subway and bus riders, several LIRR riders expressed relief that there finally would be some teeth behind the agency’s requirement that passengers mask up.

"I think it is a great idea," said New Hyde Park commuter Jim Wilson, 38, who works in human resources. "There needs to be repercussions for not wearing the masks. New York State has come too far to backslide."

But even those who praised the plan had muted expectations for it. "There are so many people who jump the turnstiles and face no repercussions," Wilson said. "I don’t see them issuing many fines."

The new policy has been hotly debated on social media among commuters, with some dismissing it as a money grab by the MTA and the state, and others opining that a $50 ticket does not go far enough. The MTA has said about 90% of its riders are complying with the mask policy, but added that those numbers have fallen in recent weeks.

LIRR president Phillip Eng said Friday that he’s observed "close to 100%" compliance on the railroad. He said the LIRR has been doing its part, including by handing out free masks at ticket windows, stations and on some trains. The LIRR will deploy a "Mask Force" to distribute masks at 20 stations on Monday — the first day the fines will be issued.

"For those who refuse to cover their faces, potentially compromising the safety and health of other riders and LIRR employees, we ask that they step up and do the right thing," Eng said. "The fine is the last resort."

Gerard Bringmann, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, said that while he doesn’t expect to see police officers "on every train, every day" issuing tickets, it is important that the MTA show the new policy is not an empty threat.

"After some people actually get written up for some $50 tickets, I think compliance will get a lot better," said Bringmann, who believes the policy could go a long way toward attracting some lapsed LIRR commuters back to the system. "We need to give our riders a comfort level that the LIRR is doing everything possible to keep them safe."

Merrick commuter Melissa Scopelitis, 42, called the plan to fine mask refusers "a brilliant idea," although she, too, was skeptical of how much of a difference it will make.

"Do I think it will scare riders? No," said Scopelitis, an administrative manager who believes some riders just don’t "like being told what to do."

"I saw a mother and son — about 10, 11 years old — trying to hide the fact the son wasn’t wearing his mask by putting a jacket over his head," she said. "I think, just like anything else, people don't take things seriously."