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Confusion as drivers fear laying down law on those who snub rules on masks

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Passengers were anxious to avoid being fined

Passengers were anxious to avoid being fined

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Passengers were anxious to avoid being fined

The policing of mandatory masks on public transport to reduce the transmission of Covid-19 remains in a state of disarray as thousands of passengers yesterday failed to obey the new law.

Although the National Transport Authority (NTA) claimed compliance was good, it was as low as 60pc on some bus routes, at 80pc on Dublin's Luas system and 80-90pc on Dublin Bus.

According to new regulations, flouting the rule should carry a penalty of six months jail or a fine of €2,500. However, both the National Bus and Railworkers' Union (NBRU) and Siptu insisted yesterday that frontline staff cannot be compelled to enforce the law.

Refusal

The NTA was unable to say which workers would be delegated to impose the rule and remove passengers.

Neither the NTA or Irish Rail could say what the enforcement plan is, even if it is not being used at this stage.

Dublin Bus referred all questions to the NTA and Transdev, which operates Luas, did not respond to media queries.

An NTA spokesman was not able to say at what point passengers would be refused entry for not having a mask and whether they would have to leave a mainline rail train before their destination.

The spokesman did not answer questions on whether transport staff will be disciplined if they refuse to enforce the law.

It comes as concern grows about the sustained higher number of new cases of Covid-19 being diagnosed over the past week, with 11 more people found to have the virus yesterday.

The NTA said its immediate priority was to ensure compliance among customers through co-operation by educating, engaging and encouraging face covering usage.

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Compliance was high in general

Compliance was high in general

Colin Keegan

Compliance was high in general

The NTA appears to have done no pre-planning on the transition from voluntary to mandatory wearing of masks .

In a written statement, a spokesman said: "There is extensive information in stations, at stops and on board vehicles advising customers of the requirement to wear a face mask."

He claimed "staff are directly ensuring there is awareness by engaging with customers and that is the focus at this stage".

"There does not seem to be any confusion among passengers today with compliance rates in the 80s and 90s," he said.

Staff remain deeply concerned they will end up getting into confrontation with passengers if they have to demand compliance and refuse entry.

Dermot O'Leary of the NBRU said he was encouraged by compliance but warned that the "problem of enforcement is still an issue."

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Passengers on Dublin bus wearing face masks

Passengers on Dublin bus wearing face masks

Colin Keegan

Passengers on Dublin bus wearing face masks

Antoinette Cunningham, general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, said gardai could only become involved if transport staff first attempt to enforce the law.

Resist

If transport staff continue to resist enforcing the law, it would be necessary to redraw the regulations because gardai cannot become involved in a first stage of applying the regulations, she added.

In Dublin city yesterday many morning commuters by train, tram and bus heeded the mandatory face mask rule, with the vast majority of passengers travelling with face coverings.

While passenger numbers are still very low compared with pre-Covid times, bus and tram drivers reported a big difference in the numbers wearing masks today compared to last week.

One Luas worker who was recording passenger numbers and evaluating how many of them were wearing masks, said that on more than 10 trams she had surveyed there were 286 passengers and 280 of these travellers were wearing masks, which is almost 98pc compliance. Another Luas worker expressed the hope that public pressure would improve compliance.