Swearing, spitting and violence: since the introduction of the obligation to mask the mouth in public transport, staff regularly have to deal with rebellious travelers. What do experts say is the solution to this problem?
Sharon Dijksma, alderman of Amsterdam and also chairman of the Amsterdam Transport Region, is clear: there must be a national duty to mask the mouth in public spaces. According to Dijksma, it creates confusion that a mouth mask is only mandatory in public transport, which leads to conflicts.
“Since the start of the obligation, drivers have had to constantly discuss the question why mouth masks are mandatory. Why here and not there?”, Dijksma said in conversation with NU.nl. “It regularly leads to unpleasant situations in which trams are stopped and people are put off the bus.”
On Tuesday, such a situation got out of hand. A bus driver refused a passenger who was not wearing a mouth mask, after which he became heavy abused.
Dijksma does not dare to say whether a duty of masking in public spaces could have prevented this incident. “But it is not for nothing that the safety regions argue for a national obligation to mask masks. If you look at the countries around us, such as France, a clear, national line works perfectly.”
‘Communication about policy must be clearer’
Pedro Peters, chairman of Public Transport Netherlands (OV-NL), just like Dijksma, wants more clarity about policy. “Communication around corona is not always optimal,” said Peters.
However, he does not think that a national duty to mask the mask could have prevented the bus driver’s abuse. “In general, people really know that mouth masks have to be worn in public transport, including the person who assaulted the bus driver.”
Following the incident, OV-NL announced on Wednesday that 150 incidents involving mouth masks are registered in public transport every week. It concerns incidents such as verbal abuse and spitting, but also serious violence.
Is stricter enforcement a solution? Peters believes that the responsibility lies mainly with the travelers themselves. “More attention needs to be paid to this, so that people start obeying the rules.”
‘Talk to people who refuse masks’
Arie Dijkstra, professor of behavioral sciences at the University of Groningen, also believes that wearing a face mask should be encouraged more intensively.
He sees two different groups of refusers. The first group made a conscious choice, for example because a mouth mask is not always practical when you wear glasses. The second group of itself already has great resistance to government policy.
“The first group is easy to motivate, for example by giving practical tips and explaining the importance of the policy”, says Dijkstra. However, the group that has great resistance is more complex. “With resistance it is often: the harder you press, the stronger the resistance becomes.”
According to Dijkstra, it works best in this case to have a calm, respectful conversation with these travelers. Preferably with several expert people. “Transporters must be given the right resources for this. The government must invest more in information and support for transporters, so that they can explain the policy as well as possible.”
According to Dijkstra, a national duty to mask masks in public spaces has the opposite effect. “Then you get a lot more places where people think that a masking obligation is not correct, for example in villages where the corona virus does not live. And on the other hand: is the current policy that complicated?”