Passengers will no longer need to wear masks on the tube and other transport in the capital from Thursday, Transport for London has announced.
TfL said it would continue to strongly recommend masks are worn but would no longer make them mandatory.
The change comes into effect at the same time as laws requiring self-isolation for people with coronavirus are lifted in England by Boris Johnson.
TfL has previously continued to make mask-wearing a “condition of carriage” on London Underground and other services, even when the government said they were no longer a legal requirement.
However, compliance rates dropped without the threat of enforcement by police or fixed penalty notices. The legal requirement in England to wear masks on transport and other public settings, reimposed during the Omicron surge, was dropped in late January.
TfL said that face coverings had been shown to reduce transmission of Covid and boost passenger confidence in using public transport.
The tube was one of the most affected forms of transport at the start of the pandemic, with passenger numbers falling to as little as 4% of normal levels.
By last week tube numbers had returned to about 60% of pre-pandemic levels on weekdays, and London bus ridership to about 75%.
Lilli Matson, TfL’s chief safety, health and environment officer, said: “Following the government’s decision to lift coronavirus restrictions, and the falling infection rates in London, we will be removing the condition of carriage that requires customers to wear face coverings from 24 February, but will continue to strongly recommend that customers and staff wear them as they are proven to reduce the risk of transmission and we know they provide confidence to people using public transport.”
TfL said independent testing by Imperial College London carried out monthly since September 2020 had no found traces of coronavirus on touch points in stations and on buses, and revealed that the whole transport network was well ventilated.
London TravelWatch said its latest surveys showed 69% of people felt safer using public transport when passengers wore face coverings. Its chief executive, Emma Gibson, said: “We also know that this figure is even higher for older people and those who use public transport more regularly.”
Mask-wearing in public indoor settings remains compulsory until late March in Scotland. It is also mandatory on public transport in Wales, while in Northern Ireland it is recommended.
Airlines will continue to require masks.