MARTA plans to make mask-wearing mandatory for riders under its code of conduct, the transit agency said, reversing course from an earlier statement.

“As cities in our service area begin to adopt ordinances requiring masks, MARTA anticipates establishing such a policy next week,” said Stephany Fisher, the transit agency’s spokesperson, in an email.

MARTA, its police department and the operators’ union “plan to incorporate mask-wearing into our current Ride With Respect policy,” said Fisher. “…Customers will have every opportunity to comply, but violators could be suspended from riding MARTA.”

The code of conduct already imposes such rules as a ban on spitting, loud music and smoking, but mostly prohibits undesirable actions rather than requiring positive ones. Under the code of conduct, MARTA can fine violators and suspend them from transit for up to 12 months.

MARTA is in the midst of distributing masks to riders. Masks are already required gear for MARTA employees.

The announcement of the coming mask requirement came just hours after Fisher said MARTA would not require their use, but urged riders to consider masks “critically important.”

MARTA is making announcements to riders about mask-wearing requirements imposed by local cities, including Atlanta and Brookhaven, where there are transit stations and stops.

Those local rules defy an executive order from Gov. Brian Kemp, which encourages but does not mandate mask-wearing and legally supersedes any local laws. Governor’s Office spokesperson Candice Broce on social media called the local rules “unenforceable.”

The mask dispute comes amid a spike in COVID-19 cases across the state and in local cities.

Correction: A previous version of this story misquoted the Governor’s Office spokesperson.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.