The MTA calls them the Mask Force: 300 volunteers in bright yellow t-shirts handing out free masks to subway and bus riders.
It's part of Operation Respect, an initiative to keep MTA workers safe by making sure passengers are wearing masks in the transit system.
"It’s not the job of bus operators to act as law enforement officers. The law is to wear a mask, and the bus operators should be doing what they do best, to do their job, and what their responsibility is, to move people from point A to point B,” said interim MTA President Sarah Feinberg.
Some members of the Mask Force are MTA employees, like Marie Landrum, a transit property protection supervisor who's been with the agency for 14 years. She says having passengers wear masks is vital right now.
“We can’t have COVID spread. This has to stop. The virus needs to contain itself,” Landrum said.
An added challenge this summer in getting all passengers to wear face coverings is the heat.
“Look, in some cases, people are really hot. It’s 100 degrees outside, so people are looking for a little relief and I got it. But when you’re on a bus, when you’re in the system, when you’re at the station, you got to wear a mask in the right way,” Feinberg said.
“The weather is hot. The mask, it takes the ventilation away from you. But we have to use the mask to protect ourselves from the virus,” said passenger Radint Moore.
The MTA says the majority of commuters on subways and buses are wearing masks but “operation respect” is geared to help the MTA reach the goal of 100% compliance.
Some commuters told NY1 they forgot their mask.
"I was like, 'Oh snap, yeah, I’m going very fast and running a fast errand," said passenger Taff Affigato.
We caught up with Felix Grimes, a passenger who had a mask on the 4 train but took an extra from the "mask force."
“Masks not only protect me, but it protects others from me as well,” Grimes said.
The state has donated 1 million masks to Operation Respect. That's on top of the 2 million masks the MTA has already provided to riders.