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Public need clarity on face coverings, says Transport Focus

Mark Moran
16 June 2020
Face coverings being handed out by TfL on the London Underground
Face coverings being handed out by TfL on the London Underground


The Government will have to provide greater clarity regarding the reasons for the compulsory wearing of face coverings on public transport, says passenger watchdog Transport Focus.

The wearing of face coverings becoming mandatory on public transport in England as non-essential shops reopened on 15 June.

Transport Focus chief executive Anthony Smith, said: “While many people will be thinking about a trip to the shops, public transport must be kept clear for essential workers and those that have no other option to get to work.

“Passengers urgently need clear information from Government and operators in advance as to whether face coverings will need to be worn at stations and bus stops as well as onboard trains and buses, or if they will be turned away if they aren’t wearing one.”

In Transport Focus’s latest survey 67% of people said they would not be happy using public transport unless passengers are required to wear face masks or covering.

New Transport Focus analysis shows the proportion of people who think face coverings should be a requirement on public transport has been consistently above 50% since week one of the survey.
Passenger comments on face masks:

  • “Everyone should be made to wear a mask or they will not be allowed to travel.”
  • “There will be issues with people who don’t cover their face, and it will cause friction between passengers. I don’t want to wear a face mask, but I understand that it may help to protect others…”
  • “The directive to wear face masks will put many people off. Some people will find it frightening, others will not be able to wear masks due to health conditions such as asthma. Deaf people who lip read will also struggle to be around lots of people in masks.”
  • “My concern is that that social distancing cannot be maintained and that everyone wearing a mask is not fully the answer.”

One issue that the passenger body flags up is enforcement of the requirement. “Enforcement presents difficulties, at the time of writing we still don’t know exactly what legal mechanisms will be used or penalties that passengers may face,” said Smith. “In the long run, as with other safety issues, such as smoking on public transport or seat belt use in cars, peer pressure will be the most effective spur. Rather than rush to enforcement mechanisms a gradual ‘engage, explain, encourage’ approach should be used first, but at some point, some ‘bite’ will be needed.

“This must take into account that some people cannot wear a mask for medical reasons. Many disabled people will face particular challenges – for instance those who need to read lips to supplement poor hearing will find communication with staff or other passengers very difficult. Those who are unable to wear a mask could feel uncomfortable or face comments from other passengers.”

Transport Focus said it will be carrying out its 2,000-strong, representative GB wide survey over succesive weekends after to provide an insight into what has happened and how attitudes are shifting.

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