Covid: People in power who don’t follow rules make ‘situation harder’ for Wales’ Transport Police

Since July 2020, face coverings have been compulsory on public transport in Wales.

Less people in Wales are abiding by the Welsh Government’s face covering law than ever before, a British Transport Police (BTP) boss has warned.

BTP Superintendent Andy Morgan said there’s been a decrease in the number of people following Wales' Covid regulations on public transport in recent weeks - a shift in attitude that could be caused by the recent Downing Street 'partygate' scandal.

He said: "More people now don’t want to follow the rules because they see that some people in power are not following the rules themselves and it makes the situation harder for us."

Face coverings are mandatory for people travelling on buses, trains and taxis.

Since July 2020, face coverings have been compulsory for everyone travelling on public transport in Wales, unless exempt. 

The law applies to people travelling on buses, trains and taxis. 

The British Transport Police is responsible for enforcing the law on mask-wearing in Wales, but Superintendent Morgan says it’s not an easy task. 

"There are some 247 railway stations across Wales, goodness knows how many services operate from 5am in the morning to 1am in the morning right across Wales,” he said. 

"We can’t be everywhere. Yes, there are occasions when people will be fully compliant when they see us, they won’t when we’re not around, regrettably we can’t be everywhere, but we do our best."

“We can’t be everywhere” British Transport Police said of enforcing mask-wearing on public transport.

Other challenges for the British Transport Police include identifying whether someone has a valid reason for not wearing a mask when travelling, according to Superintendent Morgan.  

He said: "We have to accept the word of that individual and there are several reasons for that, the highest one of which is the protection of that individual’s rights. There are all sorts of disabilities out there, we’re no judge of that and therefore people have to be protected and we have to accept what is being said to us."

He added: "It is incredibly challenging when we’re presented with someone who we believe might not be telling the truth, but we have no means because the rules don’t allow us to."

Passengers in Wales can be issued with a £60 fine for not wearing a mask on public transport.

In Wales, the public can be issued with a £60 fine if they don’t wear a mask where mandatory. 

The latest data shows over 12,000 fixed penalty notices have been processed in Wales for breaches to the Covid-19 regulations. However, these include a range of breaches from breaking lockdown travel restrictions to refusing to wear masks in public areas. 

Travelling on the Valleys line from Cardiff last week, passengers seemed quite happy to abide by the face covering rules.

Many passengers were happy to follow the rules on the Valleys line.

One gentleman said: "I’m not going to lie and say I like it but it’s a small inconvenience. A lot of people seem to have got into the habit of it now, it’s not too bad."

Another added: "It doesn’t bother me to be honest, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Most people are [wearing them] but you do still see quite a lot of people not wearing them."

Tomas O’Connell works as a PCSO for the British Transport Police and is often seen patrolling the trains in Wales. 

He said: "First and foremost, it comes down to educating people as to why they should be wearing face coverings or face masks. I think any penalties or notices would be a last resort."

When asked whether people were getting away lightly with breaking the law on mask-wearing in Wales, superintendent Morgan told Y Byd yn ei Le, S4C’s political programme: “The coronavirus regulations came in almost overnight... It was done for very, very good reasons and it was done with heists for good reasons.”

“However, if there was another occasion where this was brought in… I would welcome the opportunity to contribute to discussions around how we can write this regulation the next time, how we can include detail in there on the exceptions, to protect people’s personal characteristics and their disabilities, but at the same time, eliminate the opportunity for those that are looking to exploit the rules to take advantage of it and make our job very, very difficult.” 

In a statement, the Welsh Government said: “Throughout the pandemic, we have worked closely with operators and British Transport Police to remind passengers that face coverings must be worn on public transport.”

Although monitoring and enforcing the mask-wearing law in Wales is a high priority for the British Transport Police, it does not eliminate other high priority incidents such as violent crimes, the Superintendent explained. 

He said: "There’s all manner of offensive that are taking place on our railways across Wales that are equally as important."

Mask-wearing on public transport remains the law in Wales. 

  • Y Byd yn ei Le airs on Wednesday January 19 at 8.25pm on S4C with English subtitles available.