Andy Byford warned the declining rates of mask-wearing, since the Government axed the legal requirement in July, could have an impact on encouraging passengers back to public transport.
Mayor Sadiq Khan wants the legal power returned to police to enforce mask-wearing and said it would be wrong to wait for Covid cases to rise further before reinstating mask-wearing under the Government’s “Plan B” for a worsening pandemic.
Tube passenger numbers are about 60 per cent of normal levels during the week and 72 per cent at weekends, but income from the Underground is £114m behind budget for this financial year.
Mr Khan is concerned that a return to official advice to work from home will wreck Transport for London’s finances for a second time.
Mr Byford said there was a “correlation between customer confidence and ridership”, and added: “Face coverings is a factor. We tried to get the Government to reinstate the legal requirement for face coverings. For now, they have not accommodated that request.”
Since the change in the law, TfL can only require masks to be worn as a “condition of carriage” but cannot issue fines or use police to remove passengers who refuse to comply with the rules.
“People are aware there is no legal remedy or no associated fine,” Mr Byford said. “It’s an ongoing battle. I would like to think the Governments position will change if the situation deteriorates.”
Mr Khan told ITV London on Thursday night he was “concerned” people were not wearing face masks. He said he was lobbying the Government to reintroduce the police’s ability to enforce their use on public transport.
“Let’s not wait for Plan B,” he said. “Let’s now back up the condition of carriage. Give me the powers to pass a bye-law or bring back the national requirement so we can reduce the spread of this awful virus.”
TfL revealed this week that it had conducted its first private prosecution of a passenger who became aggressive after being asked to wear covering.
The man, who TfL has been unable to name, was found guilty of a public order offence and ordered by Lavender Hill Magistrates Court to pay fines and charges totalling £1,369.
In a separate case, Keia Williamson was sentenced by Uxbridge Magistrates Court to a 12-month community order and 35 rehabilitation activity requirement days after assaulting two TfL enforcement officers at Harlesden station last December as they sought to enforce mask-wearing.