Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps MP has announced that passengers must wear facemasks on public transport in England from 15 June.
Doing so will become a Condition of Travel and so will be enforceable by law.
“As passenger numbers increase, and we expect this trend to continue, we need to ensure every precaution is taken, on buses, trains, aircraft and ferries,” he told the nation on television. “With more people using transport, the evidence suggests that wearing a face covering offers some – albeit limited – protection against the spread of the virus.
“A face covering helps protect our fellow passengers. It is something that we can each do to help each other. And whilst it also remains true that measures like maintaining social distance and washing your hands remain most critical, we also know that, on public transport, keeping two metres apart is not always possible, all of the time. Indeed, the guidance explicitly recognises this fact.
“So, when more people return to the network, from the 15 June onwards, they will be required to wear a face covering on our transport network. We’ll make these rules changes under the National Rail Conditions of Travel and the Public Service Vehicle Regulations for buses. This will mean you can be refused travel if you don’t comply and could be fined.
“Alongside transport operators, this will be enforced by the British Transport Police, as necessary. But I expect the vast majority of people won’t need to be forced into this, because wearing a face-covering helps to protect others, and most people simply want to help defeat this disease.”
The masks don’t have to be surgical masks, which must be kept for clinical settings, they can be the kind of face covering people can easily make at home. The example in the image of the top of the page, modelled by train manager Jo from Eurostar, was made by his 92-year-old grandmother using an old Eurostar shirt!
There will also be exceptions to the rule for very young children, disabled people and those with breathing difficulties.
The Secretary of State was accompanied in the briefing by Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail and former Transport Commissioner for London, and he was asked whether train operators’ staff would be expected to challenge passengers who weren’t wearing a mask.
His reply was that the same question had been asked when alcohol was banned on the London Underground in 2008. However, the result was that the vast majority of passengers complied, having seen the sense in the regulation, and almost no challenges were needed. “We know that passengers are sensible,” he said, “and they will do the sensible thing, both for themselves and others.”
Sir Peter also promised there would be signs at every station, reminding passengers to wear face masks.
Frontline staff will also be expected to wear face coverings, and the government says it will work with unions, transport operators and police to ensure they have the supplies they need to be safe and provide reassurance to the public.
The ruling has generally been welcomed by the industry and train operators. Speaking for Transport for London, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “I’m pleased that our lobbying has paid off and the government has finally seen sense and made it mandatory for people to wear face coverings on public transport. This is something I and others have been calling on ministers to do for some time and is in line with a large body of evidence that they can help stop the spread of coronavirus.
“I encourage anyone travelling on public transport, or anywhere you can’t keep a safe two-metre distance, to wear a face covering, but from Monday 15 June, everyone must wear a covering over their nose and mouth for the entirety of any journeys made using the public transport network. This will be mandatory and will help everyone be safer.”
Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, added: “People thinking of returning to public transport have told us they want face coverings to be used by all passengers. The government’s decision will provide welcome clarity and will boost pressure on others to cover up.
“Passengers will now need clear information on where best to find a face covering, if they will be handed out at stations and if they will be turned away if they aren’t wearing one.”
In Transport Focus’s latest survey, 63 per cent of people said they would not be happy using public transport unless passengers are required to wear face masks or covering.
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes also backed the announcement: “This is a welcome step by the government which will lower the transmission of this deadly virus among those using public transport in the weeks and months to come.
“However, it’s also important to stress that people must not interpret the use of a face covering as a licence to breach social distancing measures as lockdown eases. A physical distance of at least two metres between passengers and/or staff must be maintained at all times, as this remains the most effective measure to control the spread of Covid-19.
“Our union has been pressing Ministers and transport bosses for further action to protect our members on the front line, as face coverings are no substitute for protective equipment. Sadly, some bosses have yet to issue the visors and other personal protective equipment that our members require.”
Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “Wearing face coverings on trains will help to ensure that those who need to travel by rail can do so with confidence. Greater use of face coverings will boost the other measures we are putting in place to keep people safe, like more thorough cleaning, improved information on potential crowding and one-way systems at busier stations.”
These new regulations only apply to England. Under devolution, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have to set their own regulations. England is the first to make the wearing of face masks on public transport mandatory.