'Entirely unhelpful' police advice on face coverings enforcement on buses

Bus industry angry at force advising passengers with concerns about non-compliance to ‘raise these with the operator”.

Face coverings have been compulsory on public transport in Scotland since Monday. Picture: SNS.
Face coverings have been compulsory on public transport in Scotland since Monday. Picture: SNS.

A senior bus industry figure has told The Scotsman it is “entirely unhelpful” for Police Scotland to say anyone with concerns about passengers flouting the compulsory face coverings rule on public transport should contact the transport operator.

However, other bus chiefs said the advice would prevent the force being swamped with calls.

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The row comes amid concerns that bus drivers – who don’t have to wear coverings themselves if behind a screen – could be asked to intervene.

Passengers can be fined a minimum of £30 for not wearing a face covering on public transport. Picture: Michael Gillen.

Some Lothian bus drivers in Edinburgh have claimed the measure is unenforceable.

Transport secretary Michael Matheson told The Scotsman last month: “Enforceability would present challenges”.

Face coverings became mandatory on public transport in Scotland on Monday, with fines of at least £30 for non-compliance.

None had been issued up to yesterday, and bus operators said compliance rates averaged around 80 per cent.

There are exemptions for children up to five and those with certain medical conditions, such as breathing difficulties.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Tuesday it was not reasonable to expect for transport staff to enforce the measure.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: "We expect to have only a limited role in enforcing the regulations on the use of face coverings on public transport.

“In the first instance, we would recommend anyone with any concerns should raise these with the transport operator.”

The force said if police officers became involved, they would explain the legislation and encourage compliance, with enforcement as a last resort.

But the bus industry source said: “The Police Scotland comment is entirely unhelpful and is not in line with what we were told would be the process.

“I accept they don’t want their time taken up with this but it’s not supposed to be down to operators.

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However, Ralph Roberts, managing director at Greenock-based McGill’s Buses, backed the police advice.

He said: “I don’t think it is unhelpful.

“I am guessing they’re guarding against the possibility of hundreds if not thousands of daily calls that could successfully be dealt with without their presence.

“So far, we have seen very high levels of compliance.

“If that continues, there won’t be many problems.

“For sure, there will always be idiots who think they are above the rules and if we need to involve the police, we will.”

Nicola Sturgeon said: “I don’t think it would be reasonable to expect those who work on public transporters to be the enforcers of this, which is why we said that is not our expectation.”

Borders Buses, which includes services to Edinburgh, said compliance varied from around 60 per cent to nearly 100 per cent.

Its spokesperson said: “Our drivers have been asked to trust customers who do not wear masks.

“To date, we have had two calls about customers not wearing coverings.”

Paul White, director of the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK – Scotland, which represents bus operators, said: “The vast majority of people are complying with the new rules, which is hugely positive.

“Operators are providing information and advice for customers and strongly encouraging customers they have a personal responsibility to follow the new [Scottish] Government rules.

“However, in cases where individuals repeatedly do not comply, this will become a matter for Police Scotland.”

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