London mayor said he was ‘not prepared’ to put transport users in the capital ‘at risk’ by removing the rules on face coverings after July 19.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said his decision to ask Transport for London (TfL) to enforce the use of mask wearing on buses and trains as a "condition of carriage" after July 19 was "imperfect".
Speaking to Good Morning Britain, he said: "Because we don't have national backing, we're going to make it a condition of carriage. This is an imperfect solution. We are working on passing a bylaw to make it a law too."
Conditions of carriage are contractual conditions between passengers and TfL, which include not consuming alcohol.
The requirement would mean passengers on all TfL services, which includes the Tube, bus, tram, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), Overground and TfL Rail, would need to continue to wear a face covering in stations and for the duration of their journey unless they are exempt.
Mr Khan has also asked TfL to put measures in place to help ensure the continued use of masks in taxis and private hire vehicles by both drivers and passengers unless they are exempt.
The request comes after the Prime Minister announced on Monday that most of England’s legal Covid-19 restrictions, including compulsory mask wearing in many indoor public settings, will end next week as part of the final stage of his road map out of the coronavirus lockdown.
The London mayor said he was “not prepared” to put Tube, tram and other transport users in the capital “at risk” by removing the rules on face coverings after so-called “freedom day”.
When asked about the enforcement of mask wearing on public transport in London, Mr Khan told BBC Breakfast: "We employ a number of enforcement officers, over 400.
"They will be making sure if anyone's not wearing a face mask, they will be reminded of the importance of doing so.
"It's not perfect. [It] would have been better if national rules applied across the country to avoid any confusion.
"The government for their own reasons have decided not to do that."
In regards to people who travel into London from other parts of the UK, he said: "A number of services that come into London are not my responsibility.
"If you are in London, you need to follow the rules.
“By keeping face masks mandatory we will give Londoners and visitors the reassurance and confidence to make the most of what our city has to offer, while also protecting our heroic transport workers and those who may be vulnerable and rely on the network to get around our city.
“It’s an extra layer of protection on top of TfL’s world-leading enhanced cleaning regime – and I’m sure Londoners will continue to do the right thing as they have done throughout the pandemic, and continue to wear a face covering on TfL services.”
TfL said that over the past year almost 212,000 people have been stopped by enforcement officers from getting on the network until they put on a face covering.
Almost 14,000 people have been prevented from boarding and around 3,200 were ejected from services.
In total, 4,300 fixed penalty notices have been issued since the mask wearing rules came in last year, it said.
Station staff and bus drivers will continue to remind passengers that face coverings are a requirement after July 19, with transport use increasing in the capital as the country emerges out of lockdown.
Tube ridership is at around 40-45 per cent of pre-pandemic levels and bus ridership at around 60-65 per cent, according to TfL data.
Andy Byford, London’s transport commissioner, said: “I would like to thank the vast majority of people using our services, who have followed the rules and helped control the virus and keep each other, and our staff, safe.
“I urge everyone to continue to follow the requirements so that we can continue to build confidence, and get back to the many wonderful things about London that we have missed during the pandemic.”
Aslef, the train drivers’ union, welcomed the move by the Mayor of London, but pointed out that, without legal enforcement, there will still be potential for disputes and disruption.
‘Consistency’ needed nationally
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, called for “consistency” across local and national transport services.
“This is welcome from the London Mayor and is consistent with the position currently adopted in Scotland, Wales and on Eurostar,” he told PA news agency.
“However, we now have the ludicrous position where a passenger travelling through London will have different rules on the tube and the main line services.
“The train operating companies and the Government should be following this lead in the name of consistency, common sense and public safety.”
Transport Salaried Staffs Association general secretary Manuel Cortes echoed the sentiments and said he hoped “other transport authorities and rail operators will take similar measures to protect both staff and passengers”.
TfL said it considered amending the existing byelaws to include the mask compulsion, but that such a move would have taken significant time and may have resulted in a gap between national regulations ending and TfL requirements coming into operation.
A Government spokeswoman said: “As we’ve set out, we’re moving from a universal Government diktat to relying on people’s personal responsibility.
“The guidance is clear that people are expected and recommended to wear a mask when they come into contact with people they don’t normally meet in enclosed and crowded spaces.
“It is open to transport operators to decide if they want to take further measures.”