PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A man was physically removed from a SEPTA bus for not wearing a mask. SEPTA operators had the right to refuse to transport passengers that do not wear face masks, but after police forcibly removed a man from a bus on Friday morning, that rule has been rescinded.
A viewer alerted Eyewitness News to the video that was posted to social media, which has now been seen thousands of times. A rider was physically dragged off a SEPTA bus by police at 11th and Market Streets on Friday.
The bus driver called police because the passenger would not leave the bus.
The passenger was resisting, holding on as tight as he could, and refusing to get off.
It took about three officers to forcibly remove him by holding him by his arms and one leg to drag him outside the vehicle.
Before all of that took place, some sort of official boarded the bus telling everyone without a mask, that they had to exit or that police would physically remove them.
That one man didn’t get off and that’s why he was physically removed. The man was not arrested or cited.
In a statement, SEPTA says its main concern is the health and safety of our customers and employees.
The rider face-mask policy was part of SEPTA’s implementation of a “lifeline service plan” that started this week, after dozens of employees became infected with the virus. At least three of them died.
Local 234 forced SEPTA’s plan after complaining about too many passengers who were putting operators and other riders as risk by riding vehicles and taking non-essential trips.
While SEPTA urges riders to cover their faces, those who refuse will not be denied entry.
But on Tuesday, when asked about the new lifeline service schedule, which included the requirement all bus and subway passengers wear masks, SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards said, “We’re going to enforce. Not only can an operator of a vehicle refuse a rider that does not have a mask on, we will also have members of our transit police making sure.”
After the viral video, SEPTA released a statement on the policy update.
“SEPTA yesterday started requiring customers to wear facial coverings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. That policy will no longer be enforced. … While SEPTA urges riders to cover their faces, those who refuse will not be barred entry to the system,” the statement read in part.
During Friday’s press conference, Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy says the bus driver initially asked the man to get off the bus since he wasn’t wearing a mask. The bus driver then pulled over and called police after the man refused to leave.
“Police were not responding to the social distancing complaint, police were responding to the fact the person was asked to leave the bus and refused,” Abernathy said.
Mayor Jim Kenney says he hasn’t seen the video yet but didn’t have a problem with the passenger being removed.
“We’re in strange times and people are reacting in strange ways but I don’t blame the bus driver,” Kenney said.
In a statement, the Philly Transit Riders Union questioned whether the interaction was necessary. They say harassment and profiling will be used to determine who is allowed to use public transit.
They also say SEPTA must ensure that any interaction with police does not end in violence.
Police are currently investigating the incident.
CBS3’s Alecia Reid and Greg Argos contributed to this report.