‘It doesn’t seem to be enforceable at all. And if you do say anything, people get very angry,’ one Tube passenger tells Joanna Taylor
The number of people wearing face coverings on Transport for London services has not fallen since nationwide coronavirus restrictions were lifted on 19 July, the company has said, after Mayor Sadiq Khan decided to ignore the government’s updated guidance.
A TfL spokesperson told The Independent that “compliance observed at the beginning of the week was broadly the same as last week” – before ‘Freedom Day’ in England.
“You can definitely see a few more people without them. Maybe about 20, 30 per cent I would say,” Will Alexander told The Independent after stepping off the Tube in east London with his son.
“Is it enforceable? Absolutely not. They don’t have anyone on the trains so people can take their masks off as soon as they get on. It doesn’t seem to be enforceable at all. And if you do say anything, people get very angry.”
When the final stage of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown was reached on Monday – and mask-wearing on public transport was dropped as a government-mandated requirement – TfL were stripped of their ability to hand out fines to those forgoing face coverings without an exemption, but made masks a “condition of carriage.”
Now, they hope to “educate and encourage” customers to wear masks, a TfL spokesperson said, at least during this initial stage of their new rules. The company can also refuse entry to those who try to board their Tubes, buses, trams, DLRs, Overgrounds or TfL rail services if they’re not wearing one.
The network has more than 400 uniformed officers tasked with ensuring customers are wearing masks, among other duties – so it’s not quite accurate that TfL doesn’t have “anyone” enforcing the rules. But it’s also difficult to monitor whether compliance has actually remained consistent.
Between 30 May and 26 June 2021, 86 per cent of customers told TfL that they followed the rules at all times on their transport services. Since then, “observations from staff and CCTV across the network” suggest that compliance has remained “broadly similar” across recent weeks, a TfL spokesperson said.
But many Londoners believe they’ve witnessed a dip on their travels about the city.
“I think the number of people wearing them has dropped slightly,” Emily Dollman says, before catching a TfL rail service in Forest Gate. “I’d say probably now maybe 60 per cent of people are wearing them still.
“And there’s definitely people not wearing them that aren’t wearing the exemption badge or lanyard.”
Her estimate, and others’, is anecdotal, and TfL point out that “it is not possible to have enforcement officers on each carriage and bus on the network”.
But for those failing to wear a mask without an exemption, part of the problem seems to be that they think it’s a matter of personal choice.
“I’m not wearing a mask right now,” Maxwell Deesir said. “That’s my own personal choice because of how I take care of my body. I’m calm with the masks but I don’t think anything should be forced on people.
“I travel on the Tube every day. Some people are really scared or they’re cautious and they’re still wearing their masks and other people choose not to and they just relax more. I think that’s how it should be, it’s personal choice.”
Ruby Moody, who is wearing a mask at the same station, is dismissive of people like Maxwell. “A lot of people just chose to not wear one,” she said. “Some people are stupid, they just choose that. They think they don’t have to wear it.”
The government says that the “best available scientific evidence” suggests that face coverings, when used correctly, may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in some circumstances and help to protect others.
Removing the nationwide requirement to wear them in shared spaces, such as on public transport, has proven controversial, particularly among immunocompromised people.
“I had Covid, so I’m scared about it,” Nuwan Sampadhranadhunga, another passenger, told The Independent.
“I almost nearly died. Nobody is wearing the masks. I work in an off licence, so I can see nobody is wearing the masks.”