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
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.
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.
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.
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