Updated July 8
A brouhaha over mask use on a Steamship Authority shuttle bus erupted on June 21 when masked passengers boarded and found passengers inside not wearing face coverings.
Exchanges between the two sets of passengers evidently became so heated, the driver had to pull over and admonish both sides, which still didn’t quell the dispute. The two sides argued the whole trip from the Palmer lot to the Woods Hole terminal, according to SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll. At some point the discord became physical, according to the Massachusetts Environmental Police.
At one point, someone called the Falmouth Police Department.
In an email to The Times, Lt. Douglas DeCosta provided incident notes from the call: “A caller on SSA bus 8 reported a disturbance,” he wrote. “The caller later advised us that the bus had made it to Woods Hole. Finally, an Environmental Police Officer advised our [department] that both parties were separated and each party was being put on a different boat.”
At some point “there was some pushing and shoving,” Massachusetts Environmental Police Lt. Colonel Pat Moran said. Nobody pressed charges, he said.
Driscoll said two people were on the bus without masks around noon when two people boarded with masks, and “they exchanged words.” The bus driver told them to “knock it off,” but they persisted, he said.
From what he has been able to learn, Driscoll said the people who boarded with masks asked the people inside the bus without masks to move farther away, and those people “took umbrage at that.”
The bus driver was forced to pull over at the Elks Lodge to try to quell the argument, Driscoll said. It didn’t work. They kept at each other all the way down to Woods Hole.
Driscoll said he was unable to shed light on Environmental Police intervention or the separation of the two sets of people onto two different ferries.
Asked why the maskless people were able to board the bus, Driscoll said, “There was nobody else on the bus, so they were able to socially distance.”
He went on to say, “it was not a fight we were going to pick” at that point.
“It’s a tricky thing right now because of politics and the pigheadedness that goes along with the mask issue,” he added.
Buses are marked with signs that read, “Wear masks inside shuttle.”
As of April 30, the SSA required passengers to wear masks inside vessels.
“All passengers when boarding, disembarking, and while onboard the Authority’s vessels are required to wear a cloth face coverings in interior passenger areas, including vessel freight decks,” language on the SSA site states. “Passengers who choose to remain in their vehicles when boarding shall be required to remain inside their vehicles for the duration of the voyage if they do not possess a cloth face covering to wear outside of their vehicle.”
Governor Charlie Baker’s order from the same time period extends to all mass transit, but also allows for social distancing. Shortly thereafter, and in accordance with an order from Governor Charlie Baker, the SSA extended the mask requirement beyond the ferries.
“[T]he Steamship Authority will require the use of cloth face coverings at its landside facilities, shuttle buses, and onboard its vessels,” the ferry line site states, “as Gov. Baker’s order specifically states ‘(a)ll persons are also required to wear masks or cloth face coverings when providing or using the services of any taxi, car, livery, ride-sharing, or similar service or any means of mass public transit, or while within an enclosed or semi-enclosed transit stop or waiting area.’”
All in all, Driscoll said, “our frontline employees are doing a great job under difficult circumstances.”
While not familiar with the incident, SSA board chairman Jim Malkin said, “It’s in everyone’s best interests to wear masks to protect themselves and others.”
He added that the issue has polarized parts of the nation — ”people are in one camp or the other. There’s no reasonable discussion anymore.”
Updated with more details.