Transport for London (TfL) has hardened its stance against passengers refusing to wear face coverings, after figures released today showed it has handed out almost 2,000 fines for mask-flouters.
TfL announced it has expanded its team of enforcement officers to crack down on a “small minority” of the public refusing to comply with social distancing rules.
The transport body told City A.M. it trained an extra 20 specialist officers to deal with lockdown-flouters last month, taking its total enforcement team to around 500.
It comes after latest figures showed TfL stopped around 128,000 people from boarding public transport over the past seven months until they agreed to wear face coverings.
The transport body has so far handed out 1,700 fixed penalty notices to mask-flouters travelling on the capital’s bus, Tube and tram networks, with fines starting at £660 for those convicted for a first offence.
However, it added that Londoners were mostly in favour of current regulations, which require all members of the public to wear a face covering on public transport unless they have a medical exemption.
TfL said it has seen “around 90 per cent compliance at the busiest times of the day”, with only a minority of passengers “continuing to ignore the regulation and putting themselves and their fellow passengers at risk”.
“People should only be travelling if they have a legitimate reason and ensuring the network is safe for those customers, which include NHS and other key workers, is our top priority,” said Siwan Hayward, director of compliance, policing operations and security at TfL.
“London is at a critical point in this pandemic and this is no time to be complacent with the measures we take to protect ourselves and others.”
It comes after home secretary Priti Patel last week pledged to place more police on streets to hand out fines to “irresponsible” people breaking lockdown rules.
In a stern warning to the nation, Patel said: “If you do not play your part, our police officers who are out there, risking their own lives everyday to keep us safe, they will enforce the regulations, and I will back them to do so.”
Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chief Council told a Downing Street press conference there were “still too many” people choosing not to follow the rules, adding: “At this critical time we will have more officers out on dedicated patrols to take action against the small few who are letting us all down”.
Hewitt said he would make “no apology” for the nearly 45,000 fixed penalty notices issued by police for “egregious breaches” of current lockdown rules.
Morrisons last week became the first British supermarket to enforce an immediate ban on customers who refuse to wear face coverings unless they have a medical exemption, in a move that received the backing of ministers.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said he “[applauded] the action Morrisons has taken”, adding that it was “the right approach”.
“I want to see all parts of society playing their part in this,” he added.
In a new hardline approach, the Metropolitan Police earlier this month warned that people will also face fines if they have no legitimate explanation for leaving their homes.