Police are to step up checks on bus and tram passengers wearing face masks in Greater Manchester after authorities admitted compliance was falling sharply.
The mayor, Andy Burnham, warned that police could fine passengers £100 and stop them from travelling, in a sign policy is moving from encouragement to enforcement.
According to Transport for Greater Manchester, about 90% of passengers wore masks when they first became compulsory a month ago, but some bus operators are now reporting 50% compliance, while the figure has been dropping to 60% on the Metrolink tram service.
Burnham said: “From this week passengers will start to see an increased presence across the networks as we seek to project a safety-first approach and boost people’s confidence in our public transport network.
“Although we would rather persuade passengers to do the right thing and wear a face covering if they can, they need to be aware that we can ask them to leave or even fine them up to £100 if they refuse.”
Some reports suggest compliance is even lower. Kieran Dobson, 23, a live music event staffing manager from Chorlton, Manchester, said only one other passenger in seven was wearing a covering when he travelled this week on the lower deck of the 368 bus from Stockport to Wythenshawe. “The driver wasn’t wearing one, he was in close proximity to another guy without one – it was a bit of a shock that the driver wasn’t bothered. There’s no kind of enforcement at all … It’s people just doing what they want.”
According to a reply from the operator, Stagecoach, drivers were told not to confront passengers and it was “virtually impossible to police”.
On London buses, compliance remains at about 90%, according to Transport for London’s estimates. Graham Daly, head of compliance, enforcement and on-street operations for TfL’s buses, said: “We started more robust enforcement from the weekend of 4 July. Our emphasis is still fairly light touch, education, with a positive message about safety. While we have more punitive sanctions we can move to that as a last resort.”
He said that TfL staff had now “interacted” with 18,500 passengers since 4 July, and fined aabout 60 of them £100.
Daly said he hoped the new rules enforcing masks in shops, due to come in on 24 July, would help increase compliance, as well as perceptions around the safety of public transport: “It will give the idea that [mask-wearing] is ubiquitous and a normal thing to do.”