TfL stops bus drivers from forcing passengers to wear face masks

1 July 2020, 8:25 | Updated: 1 July 2020, 17:08

Bus drivers have been banned from enforcing passengers to wear masks. Picture: PA

By Matthew Thompson

Transport for London has banned drivers from enforcing the wearing of masks on their buses, despite it being made compulsory in England more than two weeks ago.

Bus drivers have told LBC they are being threatened with disciplinary action by their operating companies if they try to confront or refuse boarding to passengers without face masks.

One driver, who did not wish to be named, told LBC it was “very concerning” that he was expected to refuse travel if people fail to pay the fare, but not if they fail to wear a mask.

He said: “We’re seeing a huge amount of people that aren’t complying, there’s no enforcement taking place, and it’s putting the safety of our other passengers who are complying at risk.

"We have some of the most vulnerable people in society using London buses, and selfish individuals that don’t wear a mask, and we can’t stop them boarding without the risk of being disciplined.”

LBC has been told about disputes breaking out on buses between passengers over the wearing of masks, with drivers unable to intervene given the ban on enforcement.

The Conservatives have accused Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, as chair of Transport for London (TfL), of hypocrisy.

Mr Khan has repeatedly called for compulsory face masks on public transport and has since demanded that Downing Street make them compulsory in confined spaces.

However, the London Conservatives’ Transport spokesman Keith Prince questioned the Labour mayor's mixed messaging.

Mr Prince said: “How can the Mayor in one voice be calling on the Government to introduce masks in shops, and yet he doesn’t even allow bus drivers to wear them, he does nothing to help those bus drivers enforce passengers to use them?

"Enforcing the wearing of masks not only protects passengers but provides protection for drivers themselves.”

We know that at least 33 London bus drivers have died with coronavirus and, although a number of extra safety measures have been introduced, such as protective screens on drivers’ cabs, and enhanced cleaning regimes, bus drivers are still concerned that their safety is being put at risk.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said it was a " small number of passengers who weren't complying with the rules. The spokesperson said: “It is now mandatory to wear a face-covering when travelling on the transport network and the majority of Londoners are complying with the new requirement."

Mr Khan's office said once TfL is confident all of its passengers understand the new rules, "enforcement - which may include being refused entry or being fined - will begin."

Claire Mann, Director of Bus Operations at TfL, said: “It is absolutely not the case that bus drivers should be stopped from asking customers to wear face coverings and they should not be disciplined for doing so.

"Bus drivers should be engaging with customers to make sure they are aware that it is a requirement to wear face coverings on public transport unless they are exempt, where they feel comfortable to do so.

"We have issued communications to bus operators about the role of bus drivers in encouraging compliance with the new regulations.

“The police and TfL enforcement officers are deployed to priority locations across the bus network to explain the requirement and encourage compliance.

“Everyone should be wearing a mask on our services unless they are exempt and bus drivers can now also use an on-bus reporting function to report issues with non-compliance.

“We ask the public to remember that some customers will be unable to wear a face covering for medical reasons that may not be immediately obvious.”

But drivers say they aren’t seeing any police enforcement.

Another told LBC: “There are no police to enforce this, there are no revenue inspectors to enforce this, and, as drivers, we’ve been told we’re absolutely not to enforce it or question it.”