The Rail Passenger Rights Regulation and its ongoing revision

The Regulation (EC) N°1371/2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligation brought a set of common minimal rules for all persons travelling by train in Europe. It includes a specific chapter on the rights of passengers with disabilities and passengers with reduced mobility.
In its 2013 report on the application of the Regulation, the European Commission highlighted certain problematic areas which were confirmed by an impact assessment in 2016/2017. In 2017, the Commission tabled a proposal (COM/2017/0548 final - 2017/0237 (COD)) for a modernised regulation, with the aim namely to significantly improve the rights of passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility.
This article describes the essential elements of the existing Regulation and of its proposed recast, from the point of view of visually impaired persons (hereafter “VIPs”).

The rights and obligations under the existing Regulation

Railway companies and station managers have to guarantee VIPs, when buying a ticket or making a reservation, a right to non-discriminatory access to transport at no additional cost. Only when it is necessary to comply with their non-discriminatory access rules, can those selling tickets or making reservations refuse to sell or book a ticket, or require to be accompanied by an assistant. In that case, upon request, they have to inform the concerned traveller of the reasons, in writing and within 5 working days. They must also make all reasonable efforts to propose an alternative transport option taking into account the concerned traveller’s accessibility needs.

Railway companies, ticket sellers or tour operators must, upon request, provide information concerning the accessibility of the rails services and trains.

Station manager or/and railway companies must provide assistance free of charge, especially during the boarding and disembarking of the train at staffed stations and in using the facilities on board available for all passengers.

The VIP should present him or herself at the designated point at the time stipulated by the railway company or station manager providing assistance. This time cannot be more than 60 minutes before the published departure time, unless it is the time at which all passengers are asked to check. If no time is stipulated, it is at least 30 minutes before the published departure time or the time for check in. The station manager and any other authorised person must designate points within and outside the railway station, at which one should make one’s arrival known and request assistance.

In unstaffed stations or in the absence of accompanying staff on board a train, station managers and/or railway companies must make all reasonable efforts to enable VIPs to travel by rail; they must also ensure that there is easily available information regarding nearest staffed stations and directly available assistance.

Assistance is provided on condition that the railway company, the station manager, the ticket vendor or the tour operator with which the ticket was purchased receives notification of the VIP’s need for such assistance at least 48 hours before departure. In case of multiple journeys (i.e. journeys composed of different segments as well as recurrent journeys), one notification from the passenger shall be sufficient, provided that the passenger gives adequate information on the timing of subsequent journeys.

Let aside compensation for delays or cancellations (which is for all travellers alike), the railway undertakings and station managers are liable for any damage to or loss of mobility equipment or assistant dogs caused by them.

Improvements proposed by the Commission

The Commission’s proposal (hereafter “the proposal”) extends the scope of some of the existing rules:

  • Right of access to transport: this would also cover personal assistants and assistance dogs;
  • Information about accessibility: independently of a contractual link with passengers, station managers would also have to ensure that there is such information about the accessibility of the station and associated facilities.

The proposal also creates a new obligation, i.e. that railway companies and station managers should ensure that their staff, in particular those that deal directly with the travelling public, and specifically those that provide direct assistance, have received appropriate disability awareness training to meet the needs of VIPs.

The proposal further clarifies a number of points, i.e.:

  • that the compulsory information about accessibility, assistance and absence thereof in unstaffed stations should itself be in accessible formats;
  • that assistance must be available at all times when trains are operating (including night services or during week-ends) and not be limited to conventional working hours;
  • In the absence of notification, that railway companies and station managers at staffed stations must still make all reasonable efforts to provide assistance so that the VIP can travel. It would therefore not be compatible with the Regulation to limit assistance, in practice or contractually, to those cases where a prior notification has been received;
  • In case of multiple journeys, that it is the responsibility of the railway company, station manager, ticket seller or tour operator who receives the notification to forward the information to all the railway companies and station managers involved in the journey;
  • Regarding compensation, that it should correspond to the cost of repair or replacement of the mobility equipment lost or damaged, and that every effort should be made to provide temporary replacement devices until the compensation is paid.

Sadly, the Commission missed the opportunity to incorporate in the text the following two clarifications that it had already made in its Interpretative Guidelines of 2015 (C(2015) 4089 final), i.e.:

  • that railway undertakings and station managers cannot require passengers to show a disability certificate or other proof of disability in order to benefit from assistance in stations and on board trains;
  • that the process for booking assistance should be free of additional charge as well e.g. through toll-free phone lines, just as the provision of assistance is.

More importantly, the Commission did not delete the pre-notification time for assistance at stations and enable the “turn-up-and-go” principle.

The legislative state of play

The Commission's proposal is currently being examined by the European Parliament and the EU Council (i.e. the representatives of the governments of the member states) and needs to be agreed jointly by the two institutions in order to be adopted and to eventually enter into force. At the moment of finalising this article, the Parliament’s lead committee (Transport and Tourism) still needed to adopt its position before submitting it to a plenary vote and the Council was still debating its own position.

The issues around the proposed text – questions to Marie Denninghaus, Transport and Mobility Officer at the European Disability Forum

1.    What are the EDF issues around the proposed revised rules?

EDF welcomes the recast of this Regulation, as it is in line with the previous review which showed certain shortcomings that have to be improved. We are especially happy that the Commission took up some crucial points concerning persons with disabilities and we support in particular the introduction of the following points:

•    A clear reference to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) has been introduced
•    There are no exemptions for disability-related provisions (Art. 2)
•    If ticketing machines are not accessible the tickets can be purchased free of charge on board of the train (Art. 10)
•    re-routed and alternative transport services have to be accessible (Art. 16)
•    contingency plans for bigger stations have to be drawn up and include persons with disabilities (Art. 18)
•    assistance has to be available at all times when trains are operating (Art. 23 – 24)
•    staff has to be trained on disability issues (Art. 26)
•    the competences of the National Enforcement Bodies are better defined and include specific tasks (Chapter VII)

However, we regret deeply that

•    The 48-hour rule to book assistance remains (Art. 24). EDF has been campaigning actively to introduce the “Turn-up-and-go” principle, i.e. the idea that you can just turn up at the station without having to book assistance in advance. In line with the UNCRPD, persons with disabilities should be allowed to travel on an equal basis with others.
•    It has not been clarified that the booking of assistance needs to be free of charge (Art. 22). In some countries, assistance has to be booked via a paying phone number for example, which is discriminatory.
•    The requirements for staff training are not more comprehensive and detailed. We think that there should be a clear curriculum on what staff have to be trained and persons with disabilities should be included in the training. Such a curriculum already exists for air travel, the so-called “Doc 30” of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC). The Doc 30 is not binding but it is used as a reference and widely accepted.
•    The enforcement powers of National Enforcement Bodies (NEBs) for individual complaints have not been significantly strengthened and/or harmonized. We receive many complaints in EDF that if your rights were not respected, it is very difficult to take recourse and lodge a complaint. There are designated authorities for each Member State where you should be able to complain but often they are understaffed, lack the resources, and don’t have the necessary competences to take actions against the railway operators. We would like the competences to be stronger and harmonized everywhere in the EU so that all passengers with disabilities can enforce their rights without having to go to court and bear the related costs, stress, and loss of time.

2.    How does the regulation articulate with the draft European Accessibility Act?

There is no overlap with the proposal for the European Accessibility Act (EAA). While both proposals deal with transport, the Rail Passengers’ Rights deal with your rights as passengers, which is mainly assistance, the EAA focuses on accessibility of products and services. For example, the EAA could make it compulsory that all the websites and mobile applications of railway operators become accessible and that the ticketing machines and other self-service terminals in stations become accessible. Therefore, the two proposals complement each other and are both equally important.

3.    Are there other issues on the topic of rail transport not covered by the regulation that you would like to see improved/dealt with

Indeed, there are several outstanding issues. The European Disability Card is one of them, since it currently does not necessarily cover transport. In fact, it is up to each participating Member State (currently those are Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Malta, Romania, and Slovenia) to decide whether they want to include transport and recognize the discounts given by other Member States – in practice, we are not aware that any of the participating Member States have included it. We would like to first of all have ALL EU Member States participate in the Card scheme and then make the mutual recognition of transport discounts compulsory.

The other main topic that is relevant on EU level is the Regulation 1300/2014 on rail accessibility or short “TSI-PRM” (Technical Specifications for rail interoperability in the European Union for persons with disabilities and persons with reduced mobility). While this is a great example on how EU Regulations have made trains and stations more accessible and we would like to see such a law also in other transport modes, there are still certain shortcomings: for example the TSI-PRM do not cover the access to restaurant cars in trains; it is also still up to the Member States to decide which stations they renovate and make accessible, so some stations will remain inaccessible for an indefinite amount of time. This is not acceptable for us and we are working hard to close these gaps in the legislation.

4.     Is there anything else on this topic that you would like to add?

As mentioned above, the rail sector is one of the best regulated transport sectors on EU level, which is good from our point of view. However, we would also like to see stricter rules for the accessibility of airports, planes, urban transport such as metros or trams, which are currently not covered. Furthermore, we think it is important to look at transport from a holistic point of view and to also include interchanges and multi-modal terminals to ensure that a person can really travel from door to door, not just a part of the trip. Finally, the EU does not have a coherent accessibility strategy for all transport modes yet. We would like to include accessibility as a key aspect of sustainability in the EU “Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans” (SUMPs) and make a closer link to sustainability of cities in general to avoid the current piecemeal approach which only looks at a small aspect of the transport chain each time.

By Antoine Fobe, EBU Head of Campaigning