Although the UK government is scrapping the requirement to wear face masks on public transport in England next week, they will remain mandatory in London.
Although the official rules within England will change to removing the legal requirement to wear a face mask, there’s an expectation that people will choose to wear one when it would be sensible to do so.
There is a conflicting issue here. On the one hand, there have been concerns that mandating face masks on public transport sends the wrong message about public transport being unsafe, when it has been repeatedly shown to be quite safe. That might slow down the recovery in public transport use.
However, the general public has also expressed concerns about travelling on trains and buses unless face coverings are mandated, and people may avoid public transport if people stop wearing face masks.
The Mayor of London has now decided then to mandate the wearing of face masks as a condition of travel on all TfL services after Monday 19th July when the existing national legal requirement finishes.
The specific requirement is listed as clause 2.4 of TfL’s conditions of carriage.
As it’s a condition of travel, it’s akin to the small print on a ticket that no one ever reads, and failure to comply can mean the person can be removed from the TfL service.
The requirement would mean passengers on all TfL services would need to continue to wear a face-cover in stations and for the duration of their journey unless they are exempt. This would include the Tube, bus, tram, DLR, Overground and TfL Rail. The Mayor has also asked TfL to put appropriate measures in place to help ensure the continued use of face coverings in taxis and private hire vehicles by both drivers and passengers unless they are exempt.
More people are now returning to public transport, with Tube ridership at around 40-45 per cent of pre-pandemic levels and bus ridership at around 60-65 per cent. Confidence in travel has also risen, with 60 per cent of people overall and 76 per cent of people who have travelled in the last seven days saying they were confident doing so.
Boosting the use of public transport is not just an issue of helping to repair TfL’s shattered finances, but also to boost the London economy overall. Much of the recovery in public transport use so far has been around the suburbs of London, with less in the centre, and that affects the city’s wider economic recovery from the pandemic.
Although mandatory face coverings can be seen as a negative, if it’s what is required by a wary public to use trains and buses, then it will help the recovery.
There could however be confusion when people switch between services, such as from National Rail which currently is not expected to mandate face coverings to TfL services that will require them. It’s likely that many people will just wear a face-covering regardless of the operator of the train, as it has become pretty much a force of habit now.