By Liam Martin

BOSTON (CBS) – The MBTA and the union representing many of its workers are at odds, over masks. Riders are required to wear face coverings, but T management says it won’t strictly enforce that requirement. And as people return to work and ridership increases, there’s fear that crowded conditions will mean a surge in COVID cases.

The MBTA is starting a public education campaign called “Ride Safer” to reinforce the mask message. (WBZ-TV)

MBTA ridership is slowly ticking up, and along with it, pleas for people to wear some form of face covering. In fact, face coverings are part of Governor Baker’s executive order.

“I feel safe as long as I’m wearing a mask. I’m keeping myself safe, and I’m keeping everyone else safe,” said MBTA rider Thomas Ramos.

But can they force people to do what Ramos is doing? “We greatly welcome the Governor’s order requiring the use of face coverings,” said MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak. He said that at Thursday’s MBTA Board meeting, but he didn’t discuss enforcing the order. That’s something he did talk about Wednesday during a WBUR radio interview, saying, “We’re in a position where we really can’t enforce it in a police action kind of way. However, we’re really asking everyone to wear a mask.”

Face coverings on the T are required. (WBZ-TV)

Poftak said that since the order exempts people with certain medical conditions from wearing face coverings, the MBTA can’t bust riders for not doing it. They tried that in Philadelphia last month when cops hauled a man who was mask free off a bus. It wasn’t pretty. And the Transit Authority there stopped enforcement actions soon after.

The president of the Carmen’s Union, which represents more than 6000 T workers, wants the face-covering order enforced here, saying in a letter to the state’s transportation secretary, “If the MBTA chooses not to enforce the Governor’s mandate for MBTA riders, the health and safety of essential frontline MBTA workers and the passengers they transport will be at risk.”

To encourage riders to wear face coverings, the MBTA is starting a public education campaign called “Ride Safer” to reinforce the message.