Despite the recent steep rise in the number of coronavirus diagnoses, Ynet has received dozens of reports along with documentation of passengers and drivers on public transportation who flout Health Ministry regulations and go on densely crowded rides without a mask or wearing it in a manner that does not cover their face properly and does not prevent further infections.
"Most passengers wear a mask, but there's always at least a few passengers who don't wear a mask at all and another few who wear a mask not covering anything," Benjamin from Tel Aviv told Ynet. "I mostly feel like their disrespecting me. If you don't mind being sick it's one thing, but you could catch it and infect others. It pains me because we are all helpless and all we have is to at least try to prevent it from spreading further. On the other hand, of course, it is difficult to be obedient 24/7 for months and certainly when the government changes the guidelines according to its convenience. When this is your example - it is hard to get surprised."
Hadar Spormas from Be'er Sheva said that she saw many passengers without masks both on urban and inter-city bus lines.
"I use public transportation a lot and I often see drivers who don't wear masks and probably count on the little interaction between them and the passengers [who mostly board the bus through the back door during the pandemic]," Spormas told Ynet. "Many passengers also do not follow the rules. The buses are crowded and stuffy and there is no enforcement on masks, certainly not like there is on payment."
It remains unclear who is in charge of upholding the order on public transport.
The Transportation Ministry initially claimed that the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the drivers, however, later statements say it was a conductor's duty.
"According to Transportation Ministry instructions, bus drivers are prohibited from acting against a passenger without a mask. The driver is only supposed to ask the passenger to wear a mask for their, and everyone's health," said a spokesperson for the Egged bus company.
"The driver should make it clear to the passenger they will be fined for not wearing a mask if a conductor gets on the bus… However, they will have the authority to remove from the bus a passenger who refuses to put on a mask."
Israel Police said in a statement that a driver could turn to them in case a passenger refuses to wear a mask, but some witnesses paint a different picture.
A driver for the Superbus transportation company told Ynet that he had picked up a passenger from a hospital in northern Israel who refused to wear a mask.
"He coughed a lot, and it happened right after we left the hospital. It was very worrying, and I asked for everyone to put on masks because the air conditioning sucks up what we exhale and spreads the air all over us," said the driver. "He refused to put on a mask, so, I stopped the bus on the side of the road. The company instructed me to call the police. The passenger refused to identify, and the passengers simply told him to put on a mask. His friend also threatened me. I asked the cops to do something and they promised to accompany me with their car. When I got back inside with the two passengers - the car stayed behind, and no one escorted me."
The bus driver union called on the government to allocate budgets for the installation of partitions on buses that will separate drivers from the passengers and protect their health. Additionally, the union claimed that wearing masks for prolonged periods of time distracts the drivers and causes breathing difficulty that impairs their concentration on the road and puts the lives of passengers at risk.