GMB brands five-month cab passenger face mask delay as ‘monstrous’, while drivers are still not forced to wear face coverings

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A senior union boss has branded the time it has taken the Government to make mandatory the wearing of face coverings for taxi and private hire passengers as “monstrous”.

Steve Garelick, GMB regional organiser logistics, gig economy & local government, said in a Tweet: “On April 6 I wrote asking Grant Shapps and the Department for Transport to make face masks mandatory in taxis for customers. Until today the government finally acted over five months later. Monstrous behaviour.”

It is now a legal requirement for passengers to wear face coverings in taxis and private hire vehicles, as well as in hospitality venues such as restaurants and bars, other than when you are eating and drinking. Staff in retail and hospitality settings will also be legally required to wear face coverings.

If necessary, the police and Transport for London (TfL) officers have enforcement powers including issuing fines of £200, halving to £100 if paid within 14 days, but doubling up to a maximum of £6,400 for repeated offences. 

However, the rules do not mandate that taxi and private hire drivers have to wear coverings. Delivering the somewhat incoherent new rules to the Commons, prime minister Boris Johnson said: “We will extend the requirement to wear face coverings to include staff in retail, all users of taxis and private hire vehicles, and staff and customers in indoor hospitality, except when seated at a table to eat or drink.”

According to DfT sources, taxi and private hire drivers, and indeed all transport workers, are not legally required to wear a face covering while in their workplace, but are urged to wear face masks where possible. The DfT “advises” drivers to wear a face covering when they are unable to maintain social distancing in passenger-facing roles.

And in a further loophole, it has emerged that private chauffeurs and people riding in private chauffeur cars do not have to wear masks as, unlike cab drivers, they do not encounter a series of different contacts. This leaves further loopholes – for example private chauffeurs operating as a pool, where the rules are not clear, and predictably, Downing Street “did not know” the specifics of the rules.

No 10 later issued a clarification, stating that Johnson and other cabinet ministers – who use a pool of chauffeurs – would wear masks in government cars. Johnson said the new restrictions could be in place for “perhaps six months”.