Sadiq Khan has urged the government to “retain the existing national legal requirement for face coverings on public transport” but has so far stopped short of using his own powers to enforce the rule on Transport for London services after Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that it will end on 19 July as part of the lifting of almost all Covid-19 restrictions.
Johnson earlier said “we expect and recommend” people to wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces “such as on public transport” and the government has left it to individual transport companies to decided whether to enforce that advice and how, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps saying it is “up to them” to decide.
Shapps told the Commons transport select committee last week he would be “very relaxed” if the Mayor continued to make face-coverings compulsory on London’s buses, Underground and other services for which TfL is responsible, as he is entitled to as a “condition of carriage“.
However, Khan resisted doing this in the earliest months of the pandemic amid TfL concerns about being out of step with the requirements on national rail passengers, who frequently switch to and from TfL services within the capital.
TfL commissioner Andy Byford has recently warned that different transport operators having different sets of rules in London could create confusion along with difficulties for staff trying to enforce them, while also risking suggesting that the capital’s public transport is not Covid-safe.
Khan, while welcoming the government “strengthening its messaging” on the issue in the form of a recommendation, also said “ministers must ensure they provide clear, unequivocal guidance on what people should do to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”
Similarly, London Travelwatch, the capital’s official transport-users’ watchdog, has urged TfL and rail operating companies to provide “very clear information” to passengers about when they should wear face-coverings.
Director Emma Gibson underlined that 56 per cent of people responding to a recent survey said they would not use public transport unless fellow passengers are required to wear a face-covering. “Although some people will be happy to tear off their face masks, many people are still very worried about travelling,” she said.
TfL has been reporting a continuing gradual increase in public transport use, which is now considerably higher than at the start of the year on the buses and Underground. However, the summer holiday period is likely to have an adverse effect on weekday ridership, with buses particularly affected after schools break up next week.
In other transport news, the government has agreed to postpone until September a “review” of bus travel demand imposed as a condition of its most recent financial support for TfL which had previously been scheduled for this month.
London TravelWatch had urged the Department for Transport to reschedule the exercise for later in the year on the grounds that an accurate assessment would be impossible to make before people had began returning to work.
Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon, who chairs the London Assembly’s transport committee, and the Labour Assembly group’s transport spokesperson Elly Baker had also asked for the delay, as had while Adam Tyndall, Programme director for Transport at business group London First, who had warned that “jumping to conclusions” about the appetite for bus travel could trigger a “cycle of decline” and encourage more car use.
Dave Hill: Sadiq Khan calls for face-coverings to remain compulsory on public transport as government confirms rule will end