Commuters wearing masks board a train in Hicksville.

Commuters wearing masks board a train in Hicksville. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The complaints roll in nearly every day. Just look at a sampling of recent social media posts.

"There are multiple people in my train cars not wearing masks."

"When the @LIRR keeps talking about how they enforce masks, yet the guy a row over is coughing without one on. The conductor took his ticket and said nothing."

"@LIRR on the train, it's a full car of folks NOT wearing masks!!!"

Perhaps it's not surprising that mask-wearing on the Long Island Rail Road has waned. Some Long Islanders actively push back against the notion of wearing a mask. Others just don't want to bother anymore. Some might just forget.

But the reason doesn't matter. Commuters have the right to a safe ride to work; families should know they'll be protected during their trips. Mask-wearers shouldn't have to move their seats or switch cars to find a safe haven. As the LIRR tries to woo customers out of their cars and back onto trains, masks are key.

Concerns over mask-wearing, however, aren't limited to trains. In supermarkets and restaurants, in movie theaters and gyms, there's an ongoing struggle between those who wear masks conscientiously and those who don't. But while customers can leave a store or theater when they feel unsafe, there's nowhere to go as the train rattles down the track. And though local officials can say, however wrongly, they won't enforce state mandates, there's no wiggle room on trains. It's federal law.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention directive even specifies how the mask mandate should be enforced, suggesting train operators should be instructing riders on federal law, seeking compliance and "at the earliest opportunity, disembarking any person who refuses to comply."

But LIRR officials say they're not pushing conductors to enforce the requirement. That's partly because they don't want to put railroad workers into potentially confrontational or dangerous situations. Instead, riders can report examples of noncompliance to conductors or other LIRR workers, who are supposed to pass that along, so Metropolitan Transportation Authority police officers can meet the train at an upcoming stop and handle the issue from there.

That the LIRR has to worry about conductor safety is unfortunate. Nonetheless, the railroad has to find new ways to step up enforcement — like a renewed intensive public relations, education and enforcement campaign, returning to the pressure seen in the pandemic's early days to change the tenor and perception. That can start by making sure LIRR employees themselves wear masks.

Beyond that, until we are advised that transmission of the virus is no longer a high risk, and until it's no longer the law, responsibility lies with each LIRR rider. This shouldn't be political; it shouldn't even be a debate. For your own sake, for the sake of other riders, for the sake of the workers, wear a mask while on the train.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.