TORONTO -- TTC riders are now required to wear masks when travelling on the system, something that Mayor John Tory says will be necessary in order to get people to return to public transit in “greater numbers.”

The policy was first announced last month but only took effect at midnight.

Though violators of the policy could technically face a $195 fine, the TTC has said that it has no plans to hand out tickets as of now and will instead work to educate riders about the need for masks.

As part of that effort, TTC workers will be handing out one million masks to riders over the coming weeks and months and an advertisement and social media campaign is being launched in the 10 languages that are most frequently spoken in the city this week.

Anyone with a medical condition that makes it difficult for them to wear a mask is exempted from the TTC’s policy, as are all children under two years of age.

“It is a hassle and it is not the most comfortable thing in the world but we are not the first to be doing this and we are doing it for a reason and that is so people can stay healthy,” Tory said during a press conference at Kennedy Station on Thursday morning. “By my wearing a mask I protect you from getting anything that I might have in my water droplets and my mouth and by you wearing a mask you protect me and that is the bargain that I think we want to strike with each other.”

At one point during the COVID-19 pandemic, the TTC saw its ridership decline by 85 per cent but riders have been slowly returning to the system ever since the city entered stage two of the province’s reopening plan.

According to TTC CEO Rick Leary, bus ridership is now up to 37 per cent of its usual levels on weekdays and 40 per cent on weekends. He said that subway and streetcar ridership remains under 20 per cent but is starting to tick up as well.

The increase in ridership, however, has meant busier vehicles which have in turn made it more difficult to practice physical distancing.

“Of course we want people to use public transit and part of what is going to have people use it in a confident manner is having all the customers on the TTC wear a face covering,” Tory said, noting that it is important that all riders “feel safe” when on the system.

The launch of the TTC’s mandatory mask policy comes as the agency allows the return of all-door boarding and cash payments, which were both suspended at the height of the pandemic.

While the policy has only been in effect for a few hours, Tory said that he has been “heartened” by the number of people he has already seen wearing masks while on the system.

He said that he would like to see the TTC get to 90 per cent compliance as has been seen in a number of of other cities, including New York City.

“I am hopeful that by the time we get a few days into this we will see widespread compliance and there will be no need (for enforcement),” he said. “People will do the right thing because it is the right thing to do as opposed to us having to hand out a bunch of tickets.”