The so-called ‘Freedom Day’ of July 19th has seen the removal of the legal obligation to wear a face covering in England.
While many have welcomed it, as well as the greater freedoms to meet and socialise, some of the more vulnerable members of the community are concerned their freedom will actually be compromised by the move.
We undertook some research with 952 members of our consumer panel to see how confident they felt about taking public transport in the face of restrictions being eased.
More than 60% said they now felt uncomfortable using buses, trains, trams, coaches and taxis. With the main reason for using public transport being to attend a hospital or GP appointment, it presents a worrying picture. If their concerns limit whether they decide to travel, disabled people would also have to find alternative ways to shop and would miss out on valuable time with family and friends - the next two most common reasons they take public transport.
There are a number of public transport operators who are asking passengers to continue to wear masks and more than 90% of respondents to our survey (who are not exempt from wearing a mask) said they will continue to do so. 42% would be encouraged to travel if staff do the same.
However, with no legal backing to enforce this request, passengers will have little option should someone sit next to them without a mask. Given that 90% of respondents to our survey have mobility issues, moving to another seat may be easier said than done. People with visual impairments also wouldn’t be aware of other passengers not wearing masks.
The results of this survey also demonstrate the limitations we face in the immediate future in conducting research into accessible transport, one of the key focuses of our work. More than a third of respondents (37.6%) told us they wouldn’t be willing to take part in research that involved travelling on public transport.
Every decision will have positive and negative outcomes for those impacted on, but disabled people, who have been isolated as a result of this pandemic, may have to wait some time yet before circumstances give them the confidence to travel with others again.