The government has published formal guidance relating to the rule mandating the use of a face covering by public transport users in England. The rule came into force on Monday 15 June. It was announced by Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps 11 days earlier.

The guidance – published less than six hours before the rule was introduced – makes no suggestion that it is the operator’s responsibility to provide face coverings for passengers’ use. The requirement does not apply at stops or in bus stations and nor does it capture staff.

Boarding can be denied to passengers who fail to use a face covering and are not covered by an exemption or do not have a reasonable excuse not to do so.

However, there is no obligation for the operator or the driver to use those powers. Instead, enforcement will be by a police officer or a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO). A fine of up to £100 may be levied for non-compliance.

CPT secures climb-downs on England face covering rule

It is understood that dialogue between the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) and the Department for Transport (DfT) led to the removal of a threat that drivers would be required to enforce the policy and to use a face covering themselves.

In a message to members on Friday 12 June, CPT CEO Graham Vidler said he has asked DfT for “urgent clarity” on what coach services are in scope. DfT appears not to have acted on that. The guidance contains scant detail on the extent of the rule’s application to coach passengers.

However, Mr Vidler advised members that “there is no intention to capture closed-door services.” He further articulated a hope that the guidance would reflect that position.

The guidance does make clear that the rule does not apply to school transport services. A school transport service is defined as any transport that is provided solely for the purpose of facilitating a person’s attendance at a school or other place at which they receive education or training, or that carries a person to and from those places.

List of exemptions and reasonable excuses

Exemptions from the requirement to use a face covering, and reasonable excuses for not doing so, that are relevant to coach and bus services apply to:

  • Children under the age of 11
  • People who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering without causing severe distress, or because of any mental or physical illness or impairment or disability
  • People who are travelling with, or providing assistance to, another person who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • People who remove a face covering to avoid harm or injury, or the risk or harm or injury, to themselves or to others
  • People who are travelling to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and do not have a face covering with them
  • People who must remove the face covering to take medication
  • People who are requested to remove the face covering by a constable or another relevant person
  • People who wish to eat or drink where it is reasonably necessary to do so
  • An employee of the operator who is acting under the course of their employment
  • Any other person providing services under arrangements made with the operator and who is acting in the provision of those services
  • A constable or a PSCO acting in the course of their duty
  • An emergency responder acting in that capacity.

Where passengers are exempt from the rule or have a reasonable excuse not to observe it, the guidance states that operators should “take a proportionate approach” to requiring proof. It is not envisaged that people relying on an age, health or disability related exemption will routinely be required to produce written evidence, the document continues.

Guidance for passengers was updated at the same time. Unhelpfully, it continues to labour the point that they should consider every alternative mode before using public transport.