Passengers must wear face coverings on all public transport in England from Monday 15 June. The new policy, designed to limit Covid-19 transmission, caught many in the public transport industry by surprise.
Until now, face coverings have been encouraged in England. Elsewhere, the Scottish Government says passengers are “expected” to wear face coverings. The Welsh Government encourages their use. The Northern Ireland Executive is reviewing its policy.
The Government’s decision to make masks mandatory in England has been welcomed by the rail industry and London mayor Sadiq Khan. Both had lobbied for the mandatory requirement. Kahn said the Government had “finally seen sense”.
Briefing journalists this week, Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said the rail industry had been lobbying for mandatory face coverings for weeks.
Explaining the industry’s position, he said that, if there was to be a return to mass public transport use, there had to be a recognition that the recommended social distancing of two metres at all times was impossible. Face coverings would improve public confidence in such circumstances, he said.
Barry White, chief executive of Transport for the North, said: “We are acutely aware that, as lockdown measures continue to evolve and public transport usage increases, there are likely to be occasions were social distancing is either difficult or, at times not possible. Measures such as the use of face coverings clearly make sense.”
The bus industry welcomed the initiative. Confederation of Passenger Transport chief executive Graham Vidler said it would give passengers “the confidence to travel”.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of user watchdog Transport Focus, said: “People thinking of returning to public transport have told us they want face coverings to be used by all passengers.”
The RMT trade union, representing many public transport workers, raised concerns. General secretary Mick Cash expressed concern about how the policy would be enforced. “It’s clear that the Government and industry bosses are expecting our members to police this policy. That will put over-stretched rail workers right in the front line once again and will leave them at risk of being abused, assaulted and spat at by aggressive passengers refusing to comply.”
Face coverings are thought unlikely to prevent someone catching coronavirus but it is thought they may help prevent someone carrying the virus from infecting others.
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