Nearly six months into the coronavirus pandemic, more than nine in 10 subway and bus riders - 93% - are wearing masks.
But 15% of them are wearing their masks improperly, either below the nose or even lower, as a chin strap, defeating the purpose of the coverings to prevent coronavirus transmission.
“We can't get lax. This is, again, the most important, most useful tool to fight the COVID-19 virus, as our health advisors tell us," said MTA Chief Safety Officer Pat Warren.
The MTA periodically sends staffers into the subway and onto buses to survey how many riders are wearing masks. Each survey consists of thousands of observations.
The research shows that subway riders are less likely than bus riders to wear a mask.
The last full two-week survey, conducted July 27 to August 7, found 87% of subway riders with a face covering, down from 91% in the previous survey.
The dip concerns MTA officials.
“Any drop is of significance to us," Warren said. "Every drop is an alarm for us."
Some riders, like Sabrina Bacote have noticed.
"I’m seeing people without masks at all. It is kind of disturbing and I get away from them and go to another part of the train car," Bacote said. "I can’t say anything to them because I’m afraid of confrontation."
Riders say they are willing to take the subway because their fellow travelers covering their faces.
"I definitely wouldn't feel comfortable using the subway otherwise," said a subway rider.
Another rider who sees more bare-faced commuters than before is MTA board member Andrew Albert.
"I’ve been riding quite a bit lately, and I’ve noticed fewer people with masks," Albert said. "There’s still massive compliance, but every now and then you’ll see one or two or three people."
The MTA provides masks to riders who need them and relies on public awareness campaigns to improve compliance.
Union officials have demanded stricter enforcement from police and the MTA’s fare-evasion team, including a $100 fine for violators.
“We probably should have somebody doing the enforcement on this very important issue," Albert said.
The MTA is not ready to start enforcing the mask rule, but the agency's chief safety officer said fines are under discussion as an option in the future.