Smith Welcomes Improved Rights For Bus Passengers

15 February 2011
SNP Member of the European Parliament for Scotland, Mr Alyn Smith, has today (Tuesday) hailed a vote in Strasbourg to strengthen the rights of disabled bus and coach passengers, but expressed disappointment that the final text did not go further in implementing tougher rules for bus and transport companies in their treatment of disabled passengers.
The tougher rules promoted by Smith's group in the Parliament were effectively watered down by the other political groups and the Member State governments in advance of today's vote. In particular the legislation will only apply to journeys longer than 250 km. It is, however, an advance on the status quo, and will see new obligations on bus companies (outlined below). Smith has committed himself to support future moves to extend the same rights to shorter journeys.

The Parliament approved the final text by a majority of 504 votes to 63 against, and with 89 abstentions.

The new regulation will only apply to journeys over 250 km but will include: new rights on access to travel information before and during the journey and the obligation for all bus and coach drivers to take part in disability awareness training as well as a right to compensation for damaged wheelchairs or other assistive equipment. The legislation will also cover cancellation, overbooking and departures delayed for more than two hours. Unless bad weather conditions or natural disasters prevent a bus service from running safely, companies will have to offer a choice between full reimbursement of the ticket and rerouting by similar means, free of extra charge. If reimbursement is the only option offered, the companies have to add 50% of the ticket price in compensation. The regulation is due to come into force in 2013.

Smith said:

"Today's vote is an improvement on where we are, and will improve the lives of disabled and blind people travelling long distance in or from Scotland by bus and coach, and across the EU as a whole. Discrimination in access to transport is something that nobody should suffer, and in the same way as EU regulations have created and enforced rights on planes and railways, it is logical that buses and coaches should follow suit. Some companies are better than others, but if the transport companies are not going to lead by example then legislation must encourage.

"However, while today's vote is an improvement I am disappointed that the final text was not stronger. The final legislation sets out far inferior rights for bus passengers than is the case for passengers on rail services, air services or ferry services. This creates unfair competition between these transport modes and creates legal uncertainty that could lead to the European Court of Justice becoming the ultimate arbiter for these passengers' rights. This package is helpful as far as it goes, but this is unfinished business.

"We must continue to do more to ensure that equal access to transport becomes a reality for disabled people. It is imperative that we uphold the commitment that the UK made when it ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009. We also need to ensure that the UK government does not try to delay its implementation in the UK, in particular in relation to training of drivers."

Lobbying prior to the vote, a spokesperson for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) said:

"...[The provisions outlined above] would make a huge difference to the lives of blind and partially sighted people, so we hope that you will support the compromise agreement in the plenary vote. This is a unique opportunity to improve disabled people's access to bus and coach travel and we hope that it will not be missed."

Also lobbying prior to the vote, a spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind said:

"Europe’s guide dog users wish to exercise fully their EU citizen’s right to move around, and between, Member States of the European Union as freely as other citizens do, including on bus and coach services. We therefore urge you to demonstrate your commitment to guide dog users across the European Union by supporting the proposed Regulation at third reading. While the text does not give us all that we would want, by supporting it and strengthening the rights of all disabled passengers, we believe that another important step will be taken towards enabling Europe’s guide dog users to move across the European Union on an equal footing to other citizens."