Face coverings on public transport ‘could be mandatory’

Transport secretary says capacity on trains and buses will be greatly reduced to maintain social distancing.

Wearing face coverings on buses and trains in Scotland could become compulsory as part of a review into public transport during the coronavirus crisis.

Transport secretary Michael Matheson said no decision has yet been taken on the issue and he will be guided by clinical advice.

The Scottish Government has advised wearing cloth face coverings in enclosed public spaces as a precautionary measure, but so far their use has not been enforced.

Matheson was asked about the issue at Holyrood’s rural economy and connectivity committee on Wednesday, saying it is part of a transition plan to prepare for an increase in public transport use when lockdown measures are eased.

Colin Smyth MSP asked: “Will part of that transition plan include consideration of whether or not face coverings will become mandatory on public transport, and not just advisory?”

The transport secretary said: “Yes, it will cover that type of detail and will have to be operationalised by operators in place.

“That’s the sort of issue which we’ll explore and consider and we’ll take clinical advice before anything changes around existing guidance around the use of facial coverings on public transport.”

Liberal Democrat Mike Rumbles asked whether face coverings will be handed out to commuters as they board trains if they become mandatory, as has been the case in Spain.

Matheson replied: “If we go down a route where we make it mandatory for individuals to have a face covering, then we’ll have to look at how that would be policed and how that would be enforced as well.

“I should stress here that any decision relating to face coverings on public transport will be guided by clinical advice from Health Protection Scotland.”

As well as Spain, face coverings have become compulsory on public transport in other countries, including in France and Germany.

Matheson also told MSPs that capacity on public transport will be greatly reduced by the need to maintain physical distancing, with numbers as low as 10% to 25% of pre-crisis levels on buses and trains.

A typical service between Glasgow Queen Street and Edinburgh Waverley would normally hold more than 500 passengers, he said, but the restrictions mean this would be fewer than 100.

He said: “We will have to look at what financial provisions we put in place to manage that.

“Having said that, the difficulties which we’re facing here in Scotland are no different to the very challenges which are happening in other parts of the UK.

“So part of the dialogue we’ve been having with the DfT (UK Department for Transport) and UK ministers is looking at what the wider impact could be on the rail network with physical distancing.

“Decisions will have to be made on what further financial support is provided.”

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