Public transport workers in the capital have been given new powers to ‘increase enforcement’ of face masks on the Tube and buses.
Around 86% of people travelling on Transport for London (TfL) trains and buses last week wore a face covering, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.
Face coverings were first recommended for use on public transport in May but were made mandatory by the government on June 15.
Speaking during transport questions, Mr Shapps told MPs in the Commons: ‘We’ve seen very high levels of compliance on face coverings.
‘It looks like, according to the Office of National Statistics, on the week of June 26 that 86% compliance was in existence.
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‘We did say in the early days that we would ensure compliance was gently enforced but I do want to inform the House that TfL, Network Rail, British Transport Police will be tightening up on that implementation.
‘I’ve signed just under regulation 8 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) England regulations 2020 powers for TfL to increase enforcement.’
Siwan Hayward, Director of Compliance, Policing and On-street Services at TfL, said: ‘Everyone should be wearing a face covering on our services unless they are exempt and we are pleased that the majority of customers are doing this, with compliance levels at around 90% during the morning peak.
‘A number of our passengers will have a legitimate exemption. The police and TfL’s enforcement officers are deployed to priority locations across the bus and tube network to explain the requirement and encourage compliance.
‘They will now take enforcement action when required, including refusing entry, asking people to leave the network and bringing fines or prosecutions if necessary.
‘This is expected to be a last resort as Londoners will want to do the right thing and keep themselves and others safe.’
Some bus drivers in London have claimed that TfL had banned them from forcing passengers to wear masks, with other transport workers claiming they had been threatened with disciplinary action if they tried to enforce the rule.
One driver told LBC this week: ‘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.’
TfL argued staff had not been stopped from telling customers to wear face masks, adding they would not be reprimanded for doing so.
The Unite union, which represents more than 80,000 bus workers, has warned of a second spike in coronavirus infections if face coverings were not enforced.
It comes as 44 TfL workers have died of the killer virus, with 29 being London bus drivers.
Mr Shapps said a memorial will be set up at London’s Victoria Station to honour transport workers who have lost their lives during the pandemic.
Victoria was chosen as it is where transport worker Belly Mujinga, who died with coronavirus, was employed. Ms Mujinga was spat at by a man claiming to have coronavirus while on duty.
Responding to Tory MP Jacob Young, Mr Shapps said: ‘Mr Speaker, with your permission I’d like to say a word about the way that we’d like to pay tribute to the transport workers who, as honourable members have mentioned, lost their lives during this crisis – many of them providing food on our tables, helping the key workers in the NHS and care workers get to work to support us all.
‘We’d therefore like to set up a commemorative memorial for transport workers and I can think of no better location than Victoria Station where Belly Mujinga sadly was an employee who lost her life.’
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