More needs to be done to encourage Metrolink passengers to wear face coverings to allay ‘nervousness’ around returning to public transport, says Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham.
The number of people using trams crept up to around 20,000 in June as lockdown restrictions began to ease after months of passenger numbers dropping by as much as 95 per cent.
But the network is still a long way off returning to the pre-coronavirus levels of the 120,000-plus passengers reported in early March.
With pubs, restaurants and other businesses now able to open, Mr Burnham has stressed the importance of making public transport safer to encourage footfall in cities and towns.
Metrolink passengers who refuse to wear masks or face coverings can be fined £100 under regulations introduced by the government last month.
Mr Burnham has said that enforcement by Greater Manchester Police, British Transport Police and TravelSafe officers will be stepped up to hammer the message home.
“I don’t want to fine people, nor do I want to put staff in a difficult position,” he told a meeting of the region’s transport committee on Friday.
“But the time has come for more visibility around our messaging, and the powers that we have.
“There’s still a lot of nervousness amongst the general public about getting on public transport.
“It’s unfair for other passengers who feel very uncomfortable when there’s people in the carriages close to them without [face coverings].”
The number of people complying with wearing masks or face coverings is highest in the morning peak hours, where an 80 per cent compliance rate has been reported.
But once the commuter crowd has moved on TfGM has noted levels of compliance fall to 50 per cent and lower amongst a general mix of passengers.
Mr Burnham added: “It’s about giving the message of a safe city, and if we look at what’s happened over the last few days some people are returning but by no means everybody.
“If we’re going to build business confidence, and get people in the city centre’s bars and restaurants, we have to build confidence in the public transport system.”
With government funding for Metrolink due to run out in early August, Mr Burnham urged councillors from all parties to lobby for the deal to be extended.
The Department for Transport agreed to cover 95 per cent of costs incurred by Metrolink during the pandemic, with the network reporting losses of around £6m a month.
But the dramatic drop in patronage is still having an impact on TfGM, which has cut free Wi-Fi on trams to save £1.3m.
Keep up to date with all the latest local and national developments here: https://www.