How my bus ride into Croydon unmasked a growing problem

CROYDON COMMENTARY: It is against the law to take a ride on public transport without wearing a face mask. But as reader LEWIS WHITE discovered last week, despite 30 TfL bus drivers having died from coronavirus, those rules are hardly enforced

It may be the law, but there is little being done to enforce it

I went in to South Croydon by bus the other day.

One mask-less man went upstairs, with his scooter. Over the course of four or so stops, where I was on the lower deck, one mask-less woman who I would guess was about 65 to 70 years old, plus two young women got on. All mask-less.

I asked the first, politely, if she had forgotten her mask. “I am exempt,” she snapped back. I wondered if her exemption also meant that she is exempt from passing on the virus.

No2 responded she wasn’t wearing a mask and what business was it of mine?

I asked her why should the rest of us have to wear masks – as it is the law – and that we are all in this together. Did she really want another lockdown?

I pointed out a large sign which said “You must wear a mask”. I was amazed that after this dialogue (just the right side of the disrespectful boundary, on both our sides) she said that she would wear one next time. Which didn’t do much to address the health and safety of her fellow passengers on this bus, I thought.

The third woman showed me a home-made business card with a daisy which said that the “bearer is exempt”. I doubt that it was an official document. “If you’re that worried about it, you should take a taxi,” she suggested sharply.

“No, I just want to use public transport safely, thank you,” was my response, although I wish I had added, “along with all these other people who are abiding by the rules”.

A man, mask-less and clearly was a member of Arriva staff, perhaps a bus driver off-duty, jumped on board at the next stop.

“I bet you wouldn’t dare ask a man!” said the first woman. Duly prompted, that’s exactly what I did. He put his mask on. The woman avoided eye contact with me for the rest of my journey.

All this was within a three-mile bus journey in suburban Croydon.

I did not set out to be a vigilante. Nor was I. But I do think it is very wrong that some people fail to respect the law, and the rest of of us.

Most on Lewis White’s bus journey respected the law, and their fellow passengers

I was conscious all the time on the bus ride that the silent majority of my fellow travellers wore masks, demonstrating that they not only care about their own health, but about that of others.

My conclusions?

I do wonder if Transport for London are actually instructing their drivers to turn a blind eye and let maskless people on board unchallenged. This was suggested by another passenger on the bus. I feel he is probably right. Reports of transport staff being spat on or worse when they challenge passengers over masks or fares are common.

If so, TfL need to ensure that there are more staff in uniform or plain clothes to engage with maskless travellers. Ticket inspectors need to become mask inspectors, too. Perhaps the British Transport Police need some support officers to show a presence on board buses (and trams and Tubes, too).

TfL should devise a card that people with genuine health reasons should be required to hold up to the card reader, then put in their card or pass for payment. Yes, that needs a doctor to certfy to TfL that a person is “legit” .

Most of our fellow citizens are doing the right thing, even if people who should know better, like Dominic Cummings, have flouted the coronavirus rules and suffered no consequences.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, could give a stronger lead, and say, bluntly, “No mask, No ride”.

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, could help, too, by making some clear statements and funding more transport police. But then, he would rather try to make a poor joke about the Rule of Six.

Trouble is, wearing a mask as required by the law is not a joking matter.

Croydon Commentary is a platform for all our readers to offer their personal views about what matters to them in and around the borough. To submit an article for publication, just email us at inside.croydon@btinternet.com, or post your comment to an Inside Croydon article that has caught your attention


About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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27 Responses to How my bus ride into Croydon unmasked a growing problem

  1. Pop onto any FB group and this is a regular moan, and now a regular banned subject.

    Do you really believe masks work?

    If they do, where the lockdown has been enforced most has seen the greatest rise in infections.

    Something doesn’t quite add up here.

    Have you asked why?

    FTR I do wear a mask where required whether by law or common sense and politeness.

    Be polite, and smile when asking.

  2. Claire Kerr says:

    I don’t think it’s your place to challenge people, Lewis. Who knows if someone might have a legitimate reason for not feeling comfortable with wearing a mask – a history of abuse, attack or rape, for example. They would understandably perhaps not want to share that with you – or anyone else.

    • A polite question is not a “challenge”, as you choose to depict it, Claire. If any of the passengers on that bus ride had a legitimate reason for not wearing a mask, they might have said so. One did. Two others admitted that they were wrong not to be wearing a mask (the transport staffer who put his on, and the woman who said she might do so next time).
      The level of whataboutery deployed here is staggering: no one with valid reasons for not wearing a mask is compelled to do so, nor would they be expected to share those reasons with strangers on their bus.
      But there does need to be some better system of ensuring people act in the broad public interest, of enforcing the wearing of masks, and providing some simple device so that those who are exempt can demonstrate that.

    • Sebastian Tillinger says:

      A worldwide pandemic and the only way we have to control it is by limiting its airborne transmission and people are saying is it polite to ask someone to put on a mask??

      Only about 1% of people not wearing masks do so for a medical reasons – the rest don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves.

  3. Andrew Biden says:

    Love Inside Croydon generally, but this article risks unfairly victimising disabled people with genuine health conditions which prevent them wearing face coverings and should never have been published. Your author is clearly so ill-informed that he didn’t recognise the ‘daisy’ he refers to is most likely the sunflower lanyard scheme, nationally recognised as a sign of a non-visible disability: https://hiddendisabilitiesstore.com/.

    The exemptions for disabilities are included in the regulations for a reason by the Government – because there is a need for them and people are entitled to use them.

    I hope your author apologies to all the disabled travellers who he questioned as if they were criminals – it is not his job to ask questions or enforce the regulations and frankly it is not on the disabled person to carry around documents that will make Lewis believe they are genuinely disabled.

    • Sebastian Tillinger says:

      It’s everyone’s responsibility to to safeguard their fellow citizens. Nothing to do with disability and saying so just distracts from the really important matter at hand. Everyone has the right to ask and everyone has the right not to answer. Simple.

      • Andrew Biden says:

        Disabled people are often already v nervous about travelling and don’t need ill-informed people questioning them. Whether they answer or not is not the point – it is the police not passengers who are given the powers to enforce.

        • Sebastian Tillinger says:

          Nobody is carrying out enforcement – please don’t exaggerate. If we are to get on top of this pandemic it will need everyone across society to do their bit. Take positive action to ensure you are not putting others at risk and where necessary reminding others of their responsibilities. There are still many people flouting the rules about facing coverings and we must do our bit to stop this – it’s not just the Police.

          Many disabled people are in a vulnerable category and need protecting within our society. Ignorant, selfish people choosing not to wear a mask are doing nothing to help and should be called out.

  4. Kay says:

    I have a sunflower card for exemption when I travel with my father as he is deaf and has to lip read.
    However I wear a mask when on my own on the tram.
    Inspectors are challenging, as they stopped me and I showed them my card and explained why.

    It’s against the law under anti-discrimination acts for anyone other than the police to ask, so they are kind of against a wall.

  5. Sandra Monks says:

    Thank you Lewis White for challenging the maskless people on the bus. ‘No mask, no ride’ is a good idea. Personally, in today’s aggressive society, I feel nervous about challenging anyone.

    • Claire Kerr says:

      What if that maskless person has been abused, attacked or raped – and wearing a mask makes them feel claustrophibic or reminds them of that? Would it be appropriate to challenge them? You don’t know what other people have been through. you don’t know why they choose not to wear a mask.

      • There’s an awful lot of whataboutery in there, Claire.

        Five people boarded that bus in three miles not wearing a mask.

        None were “challenged”, as you choose to depict it. Lewis, who is always courteous, “asked them politely”. That’s not an unreasonable thing to do.

        If any of those not wearing masks had a valid cause and special dispensation, they might have mentioned it. None did.

        Wearing a mask is not, as you seem to believe, a “choice”. It is a legal requirement for those who can to do so.

        • Andrew Biden says:

          “If any of those not wearing masks had a valid cause and special dispensation, they might have mentioned it. None did.”

          2 out of the three people did mention their exemptions?!

      • Sebastian Tillinger says:

        Here’s a what if question. What if this pandemic gets substantially worse than it is now? Social niceties will be just something to reminisce about. Please get real.

    • maureen nana says:

      I agree Sandra sometimes I feel whats the point of wearing a face covering if there are others that cant abide .defeats the object if they are genuine then show an official card as proof.

      • Andy Shayman says:

        There aren’t any official cards which is the whole problem. The government could stop all this nonsense overnight by creating genuine NHS backed Exemption Cards which you have to get from your doctor, then there would be no arguments or mistrust of people with genuine illnesses as if you don’t have one no entry onto buses, pubs, supermarkets etc problem solved.

  6. Alan Brunwin says:

    TfL 405 bus drivers just let them on with no mask, many are young students etc thats what is going on,

  7. Thomas Windsor says:

    It would be good to read the Government guidance, it is here, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own

    The exemptions are clearly listed and include a wide range of reasons. Also it would be nice for the disabled (and others) to be able to use public transport without being harassed… Those thinking of challenging maskless people should read the following guidance and think.

    “Those who have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering should not be routinely asked to give any written evidence of this, this includes exemption cards. No person needs to seek advice or request a letter from a medical professional about their reason for not wearing a face covering.

    “Some people may feel more comfortable showing something that says they do not have to wear a face covering. This could be in the form of an exemption card, badge or even a home-made sign.

    “This is a personal choice and is not necessary in law.”

    • Thanks, Thomas.

      Though you omitted to quote this piece of the guidance, which comes at the start:

      “There are some places where you must wear a face covering by law…

      “In England, you must wear a face covering in the following indoor settings (a list of examples for each is included in the brackets):

      “Public transport (aeroplanes, trains, trams and buses).”

      The words “…by law”, and the use of the word “must” are the key ones in this discussion.

      Wearing of masks on public transport is not, for most people, something that they are allowed to choose whether it suits them or not.

      Perhaps a different kind of badge, one that says, “I’m not wearing a mask because I don’t give a shit about anyone else”, might be in greater demand?

  8. Shobna Martin says:

    i agree that going on transport is an interesting journey where some take precautions and others defeat the whole object
    i feel sorry for the bus drivers who then have to take abuse from people who travel

  9. Moya Gordon says:

    It beggars belief that people choose not to wear masks. I think vanity might have something to do with it, I’ve heard people say they think they look silly wearing a mask. Unbelievable. More people enforcing the rules and fines are the way forward. People are desperate for jobs let’s give them work which will help fight Covid.

  10. Lewis White says:

    I’d like to thank Andrew Biden for highlighting the flower motif, which at the time I was not aware of. I was put right by a friend – and Andrew confirmed it. However, as such badges are available on eBay from £2.99 and are easily photocopyable – apparently to be worn on a lanyard – how trustworthy are these badges now ?

    I would like to reassure readers that when I asked these fellow passengers, I did not ask them for anything, just the simple question, “Have you forgotten to put on your mask?” Not “Please put on your mask”. Nor did I ask for any reasons or explanations – both would have been very wrong to do.

    Three of the four people came and sat down within three metres of me. I felt that I should at least ask them. Why should I move away to another empty seat away from others? Were they threatening my health? Possibly.

    It is an emotional time, and we are definitely “all in this together”.

    Wearing a mask is a crashing bore, but is not a killer. It is a precaution against spreading the vapour that comes from the lungs due to breathing and talking, and which travels for many metres, probably around 6 in reality, depending on the lung capacity of the speaker. If masks save my life, the life of a person sitting near me, or the health professionals who tend us (and hundreds of others) if we go to hospital with covid, exposing themselves to contracting the virus – it must be our duty to do our personal best to minimise spread of the virus, whilst shopping, on the bus, or whatever, and wear one.

    When travelling on public transport, I would like to be reassured that everyone is respecting the rules, and that the authorities are being pro-active to enforce the law.

    It’s a case of respecting others, and ourselves. Not “me”, but “us”.

  11. Sebastian Tillinger says:

    I walked through two carriages on a train out of London Bridge this evening. There were 30 passengers of which 7 were not wearing masks. All seven were probably under 21. We clearly have a generation who largely don’t give a fuck about anybody but themselves.

  12. Linda Pitkin says:

    I had to go to Croydon University Hospital yesterday afternoon, to pick up medication for my sick husband. We are in our 70’s; he was too ill to go, and I don’t drive, so I took a number 60 bus. I was shocked and upset to find that not only was it crowded and no social distancing was possible, but at least 6 people on that bus were not wearing masks, some of them exuberantly shouting to each other. Bus drivers on my way there and back did not challenge people getting on the bus without masks. I had been nervous about going to CUH, but precautions there seemed very well maintained, so it turned out to be quite a haven after the bus!

  13. Allan says:

    I travel on the bus from South to Central Croydon most days. I wear my washable face mask regardless of others – and it gets washed after every wear. I sit in amazement at the number of people with no masks, masks under their nose, on their chin or around their neck. I watch in horror as they pull a crumpled much used disposable mask from their pocket as they board.

    Lots of people clearly don’t care – they may be asymptomatic they may not but clearly that’s no concern of theirs. And walking on with no mask and going upstairs or to the back seats doesn’t make it better. And just as an aside the 405 often does a driver change over at the Swan and Sugerloaf stop – rarely, if ever, are those drivers wearing masks – so passengers seeing that must think if it’s OK for them to stand at the door chatting with no mask, what does it matter.

    But I’ve lived in Croydon for many years and I would never challenge anyone – yes it’s the law, yes it makes sense to cover your mouth and nose during a pandemic – but I value my own safety too much and know I can only do what I know is right regardless of what others do.

    But you can bet if their mum, dad, gran or grandad falls foul of Covid 19 it’ll be everybody else’s fault not theirs.

    I also use shops and funnily more customers seem to wear masks there – but aren’t the staff also now supposed to wear face coverings.

    it’s a mess but sometimes I wonder if it’s all become a numbers game and that whatever we as individuals do or don’t do there will be the same result – a winter of chaos and a future of despair.

    ‘but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. — Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Le Roy, 1789 – and I’m not even sure anymore that for some even the tax reference still applies’.

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