North East Leaders ask the Prime Minister to keep the national requirement for face coverings on public transport

Political Leaders in the North East have today written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking him to keep in place the relevant national legislation to mandate the wearing of face coverings on public transport, when other national restrictions are lifted on 19th July.

Leaders say they support the government’s aim to reopen the economy, but believe that a more cautious approach is needed in relation to face coverings given the high levels of Coronavirus infection in the North East at present.

They are concerned that elderly, vulnerable and anxious people want to start using public transport again, but they now feel unable to do so because they are worried about being among strangers without the protection of face coverings. Compliance with face covering requirements is already visibly reducing on public transport, and that this can be expected to increase from 19th July when national regulations are deleted.

The requirement to wear face coverings on the locally-owned Metro system will be retained beyond 19th July as stated in the Conditions of Carriage, and customers will be encouraged to comply unless they are exempt.  

However transport authorities outside London do not have jurisdiction over buses and rail services and so unless the government puts in place a national requirement through legislation, a confused picture will emerge where passengers will be expected to act differently on different forms of public transport both in the North East and across the country.

Cllr Martin Gannon, Leader of Gateshead Council and Chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee, said:

“We really need the government to get a grip and sort out the confusion. We are doing everything we can locally to manage the situation by keeping the requirement to wear a face covering on the Metro. We are also trying to co-ordinate with our bus operator partners.

“As local councils we will continue to urge caution to the public when entering busy environments including public transport. We will use all communication channels available to us to encourage continued hand sanitising, social distancing, and the need for people to act responsibly and look after anxious and vulnerable people by wearing face coverings in busy places. But only the national government has the ability to send a clear and unambiguous message to everyone in society that the social and moral obligation to wear a face covering on public transport is backed up by the law.

“Without that clarity we fear that increased numbers of people will choose not to wear a face covering on public transport, increasing the levels of anxiety in staff and customers alike. Public transport should be accessible to everyone in society, and encourage people out of their cars – this will achieve the opposite.”

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