MONTREAL -- The Societe de transport de Montreal will be putting new measures in place in the coming weeks – like handing out masks to transit users and employees – as the province moves towards deconfinement.

The transit network announced plans for post-confinement public transit amid the COVID-19 pandemic during a press conference on Friday. 

Measures include strongly encouraging STM users and employees to wear masks, working with the business community to modify working hours to reduce traffic on public transit once the province reopens, and increasing staffing within the network. They will also be deploying debit and credit options in metros where they aren’t currently available, to avoid the use of cash amid the pandemic.

On Thursday, Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced that schools, daycares and many non-essential stores will now reopen May 25, a week later than had been planned, due to the volatile COVID-19 situation in the region.

The STM said it will continue to adjust its schedules to account for an influx of transit users, which it has been doing throughout the pandemic. 

In partnership with other transit networks, the STM will be purchasing 600,000 masks from a variety of Quebec suppliers – for a cost that has not yet been determined – and is strongly encouraging people to wear them. The network is still working out how exactly the masks will be distributed, but so far there are plans to distribute two reusable masks to every employee. 

While some are calling on the agency to make face coverings mandatory throughout the network, STM president Philippe Schnobb said they prefer to simply encourage people to wear them.

“Inspectors have other things to do than become mask police,” Schnobb said. “Social pressure will be developed.”

New measures will be taken to protect bus drivers, which will allow riders to board from the front of the bus again. When the STM first announced its measures to protect drivers amid the pandemic, they blocked the seats nearest to them and had users board from the back of the bus. 

“We’re going to have a physical barrier around the driver,” said Luc Tremblay, the STM’s general director. “For the past three weeks we’ve been working with the union to find the material that will be the easiest to install and the safest for our employees.”

Riders are being asked to board via the front of the bus and exit via the back in buses where barriers have been installed. 

The STM has also rehired over 60 student employees and has called on some of their office staff to help with sanitation measures. Additional inspectors will also be present across the network to make sure transit users are able to travel safely.

The network also hopes to create a ridership indicator to help users plan their trips, which would allow them to track which routes are busiest and adjust their plans accordingly.

Schnobb and Tremblay, both wearing coloured hearts on their suits, also announced the “MERCI” campaign – an effort to show support towards public transit employees as well as other essential workers. They said the symbol represents “A heart that travels,” and are encouraging others to wear them on public transit. 

The STM's bus and metro service has continued throughout the pandemic, albeit on reduced schedules and with public-health measures in place.