A Northland bus company believes people's adherence to wearing masks on public transport will be evident in the next few days.
Ritchies Northland area manager Tony Manga was at Whangārei's Rose St depot yesterday morning for the first day of enforcement of the national policy, which dictated public transport users must wear a mask, scarf or a similar face covering under alert level 2.
This included Whangārei's CityLink bus service as well as the Mid North Link, Hokianga Link, Far North Link and Bream Bay Link.
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For total mobility vehicles, which included taxis, Driving Miss Daisy and smaller vans, face coverings were necessary for drivers but not passengers. There were exemptions for people with a disability or physical or mental health condition which made covering their face inappropriate.
The policy also applies to the Fullers GreatSights ferry services in the Bay of Islands and Hokianga for walk-on passengers. Passengers who remain in their vehicle were not required to wear a mask, but were recommended to wear one when interacting with staff.
Social distancing rules still applied. Children under 12 and people on school buses were exempt from wearing a mask. Free disposable masks were available on Ritchies buses.
Speaking to the Northern Advocate yesterday morning, Manga said he had noted a mix of people with and without masks. He added many bus users were unaware of the rule.
At 3pm yesterday, Manga said that trend had continued throughout the day. However, he said the coming days would show how compliant bus users were.
"The busiest days are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays," he said.
"For some reason, Mondays are pretty quiet and it's been like that for some time, so the drivers are all saying [today] will be a good indication.
"I'm going to be down [at the Rose St depot] again in the morning, it's not about growling, it's about education more than anything else, to take the heat off our drivers."
The Northland Regional Council confirmed that bus drivers would not be expected to act as enforcers of the rule.
While bus driver abuse wasn't a big issue in Northland, Manga said it was his main concern with the reaction to the new rule.
"[I've] just got that gut feeling that not everybody is going to toe the line and I just don't want them taking it out on the driver, that's all.
"Without the driver being able to concentrate and focus on what their job is then, obviously, the service will be jeopardised where a driver may say to me, 'I'm not coming in tomorrow'."
Anyone caught by police not wearing a mask without a reasonable excuse could be instantly fined $300 or fined up to $1000 imposed through the courts.
Manga said he hadn't heard about any fines being issued yesterday and hoped they weren't necessary. However, he felt if people were still defying the rule in the coming weeks, lessons needed to be learned.
"I know it's a lot of money, but it's people's lives at risk."
"Covid-19 was transmitted on an urban bus in Auckland so it can possibly happen up here as well."
Manga hoped people would help inform others who didn't know about the rule and encouraged them to go to the Northland Regional Council website for more information.
Fullers Greatsights marine and tourism operations manager Barry Nielson said while he had only observed the passenger ferries from Paihia to Russell yesterday, compliance was strong.
"People have been quite receptive to and understanding of the need to wear face masks on public transport."