Face masks will remain compulsory on London Tube and bus services despite the wider easing of lockdown measures under new plans unveiled by mayor Sadiq Khan.
While the legal requirement to wear face masks will end on 19 July, the mayor said he was “not prepared to stand by and put Londoners, and our city’s recovery, at risk”.
Speaking to the Today programme, Khan said that wearing a mask was “the most unselfish thing that you can do” to protect other people.
He also said that it would be “far better” if the same rules were applied across the country.
The requirement means passengers on all Transport for London services, including the Tube, bus, tram, DLR, Overground and TfL Rail, must continue wearing a face covering unless exempt.
The mayor has also asked TfL to put measures in place to ensure face masks are still used in taxis and private hire vehicles by both drivers and passengers.
But it raises the possibility that those travelling into London and switching from mainline services to TfL services will face different sets of rules.
The industry bodies for the rail and bus industries – the Rail Delivery Group and the Confederation for Passenger Transport – have both said that operators will not go as far as TfL.
Khan’s decision comes after he clashed with Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the scrapping of face mask rules.
“I’ve repeatedly made clear that the simplest and safest option would have been for the government to retain the national requirement for face coverings on public transport,” he said.
“I’m not prepared to stand by and put Londoners, and our city’s recovery, at risk. This is why, after careful consideration, I have decided to ask TfL to retain the requirement for passengers to wear a face covering on all TfL services when the national regulations change.”
The mayor added that the continued rules would help boost confidence and encourage Londoners to get back on public transport.
“We have among us those who are clinically vulnerable”, Khan told the Today programme. “We don’t want them to be nervous and scared about using essential services.
“This issue of personal responsibility is all well and good, but what about our responsibility to others?”
Tube ridership is now at between 40 and 45 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, while bus use has risen to between 60 and 65 per cent.
Richard Burge, chief executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, welcomed the decision to retain face mask rules on public transport.
“This is welcome clarity from the mayor and Transport for London and is a move that will ensure confidence in the safety of our public transport network during this point in time,” he said.
“Confidence to commute and to visit London is integral to the economic recovery of the capital and country.”
But union RMT warned staff were at risk of violence and abuse due to the “botched, confused and inconsistent messaging” on face masks.
“Whilst we welcome the approach from the London Mayor this morning, which is consistent with the policies currently adopted in Scotland, Wales and on Eurostar, we now have the ludicrous position where a passenger travelling through London will have different rules on the tube and the main line services,” said general secretary Mike Lynch.
“As a result of this chaotic approach we now have a situation where the London measures are not enforceable by law which means RMT members will be thrown into a hostile and confrontational situation from next Monday at heightened risk of abuse and assault. That is wholly down to the confused, inconsistent and botched messaging from the government.”
The rules, which fall under TfL’s so-called conditions of carriage regulations, will be kept under ongoing review.