Police have issued fewer than than 40 fines to people for not wearing an appropriate face covering on public transport, despite previous claims from the Transport Secretary that one-in-10 passengers were breaking the rules.
Latest data from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) shows 38 notices were issued by police forces since the introduction of new rules making face coverings mandatory in England from June 15 and in Wales from June 27.
Passengers in England and Wales caught not complying with the regulations, which aim to slow the spread of coronavirus, risk being fined £100 and removed from services.
Some 32 of the 38 Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) were issued by the British Transport Police (BTP), with four issued by West Midlands Police, and one each by Lancashire and Cumbria constabularies.
At the beginning of the month, Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter that the face covering compliance rates on public transport was 90%, although BTP said that has since risen to around 97%.
Transport for London (TfL) data is not included in Thursday’s police figures, although a spokesman confirmed engagement officers had spoken with 78,132 people since July 4, with 5,612 passengers stopped from boarding, and 344 fines issued to those refusing to comply.
Unions said workers had concerns about non-compliance from passengers, as well as who would enforce the rules.
Mick Lynch, senior assistant general secretary of the RMT, said he was “deeply concerned that there are still passengers refusing to follow the basic rules” in relation to face coverings.
He said: “Not only does that put staff and other passengers at risk but it creates a potential confrontation point at a time when everyone needs to be co-operating.
“Enforcement has to be a matter for the British Transport Police and they need to be provided with the resources required to deliver it.”
The Unite union said it “repeatedly raised its concerns” about the non-compliance of some passengers.
Bobby Morton, Unite national officer for passenger transport, said: “Legally only the police have the power to intervene and enforce the rules, bus drivers do not have the power to enforce the wearing of face coverings.
“Unite has made it clear it is not the role of bus drivers to enforce the rules of face coverings and they should not be asked to do so.”
Manuel Cortes, TSSA general secretary, said: “While compliance levels are at a decent level, it’s vitally important that police, BTP and appropriate security staff have the resources to enforce this.
“Frontline transport workers should not be put in conflict with the public and it is not their responsibility to enforce the wearing of face coverings.”
A BTP spokesman said: “The overwhelming majority of people have listened, complied, and continued to play an important role in protecting other passengers and rail staff – we have seen compliance levels of around 97%.”
Male passengers account for 37 of the 38 penalties issued on public transport. Two in every three notices (68%) were issued to individuals aged between 18 and 29, the NPCC said.
Siwan Hayward, TfL director of compliance, said: “We have been educating customers of the need to wear face coverings over their nose and mouth, unless exempt, since June.
“As a result, we are now seeing widespread usage on our network, with the vast majority of passengers complying.”
Thursday’s data also showed a further eight FPNs were issued to people not wearing face coverings in another relevant place, such as in a shop.