London Mayor Sadiq Khan has asked Transport for London to continue making wearing a face-covering a requirement of travelling on its services after the government ceases to make it compulsory on all public transport nationally from next Monday.
Khan is exercising his power to make it a “condition of carriage” on all TfL services and will keep the decision under review as he and the capital’s transport chiefs seek the right balance between holding down rising Covid-19 infection rates and encouraging people to make greater use of buses, the Underground, Overground, Docklands Light Railways and London Trams, helping London’s economic recovery and, in the process, TfL’s Covid-shattered finances.
The Mayor had previously welcomed the government recommending the use of face-coverings on public transport, but asked it to go further and keep its legal stricture in place. This has not been forthcoming, but ministers have said individual transport operators can impose their own face-covering rule if they wish.
Though an early advocate of face-coverings or masks, Khan did not exercise his power to make them a condition of carriage at the start of the pandemic, choosing instead to stay in step with national policy. Concerns at the time about potential confusion for passengers switching from national rail to TfL services where different Covid rules applied and resulting difficulties for staff remain, with TfL commissioner Andy Byford recently referring to them. However, the need to increase passenger confidence appears to have now outweighed them.
City Hall says polling conducted for it last week found that 68 per cent of Londoners want face-coverings to continue to be compulsory while unions representing transport workers also support it. Recent survey data gathered by official London transport-users’ watchdog London TravelWatch in conjunction with Transport Focus found that 58 per cent of people wouldn’t use public transport in London unless there was a face mask rule and 30 per cent doubted they would ever feel completely comfortable using it again.
The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry has already backed the Mayor’s move, with chief executive Richard Burge saying it will “ensure confidence in the safety of our public transport network” and that this is “integral to the economic recovery of the capital and the country”.
Announcing his request to TfL, Khan said he has “repeatedly made clear that the simplest and safest option would have been for the government to retain the national requirement for face coverings on public transport” and had now decided “I’m not prepared to stand by and put Londoners, and our city’s recovery, at risk.” He described the measure as adding “an extra layer of protection on top of TfL’s world-leading enhanced cleaning regime”.
Byford, who has acknowledged that retaining the mask requirement could signal to passengers that London’s public transport is not Covid-safe, said the transport network is currently “cleaner than ever” and verified as such by “regular independent testing for the virus by Imperial College”. He thanked “the vast majority” of people for following the rules so far and urged everyone “to continue to follow the requirements”.
City Hall is emphasising the efficacy of face coverings in reducing the spread of Covid, especially as one in three people who contract the virus display none of its symptoms. It adds that other European countries, including France, Spain, Italy and Portugal, continue to make wearing them mandatory in public transport settings.
Khan has also asked TfL to take steps to ensure that face coverings continue to be worn by drivers and passengers alike in both taxis and private hire vehicles.
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