The European Court of Auditors has issued a Special Report on passenger and air passenger rights. In doing so he clearly illustrated the problems incurred by passengers: there is a lack of information and practical enforcement. In a parallel vote, Parliament voted in favour of significantly increasing rail passenger rights.
The EU’s current comes to a clear result: even though the rights, which protect passengers in case of cancellations or delays, are comprehensive, their enforcement is still proving difficulties. For example, 61 % of passengers state that they have little or no knowledge of their rights. 41 % of the passengers questioned said that they regarded it as too unlikely to get a satisfactory response after they had encountered problems with their journey.
Automatic compensation payments
Due to the survey results, the Court of Auditors has reached the conclusion that the current system of dealing with compensation claims is associated with a substantial administrative burden for both transport companies and passengers and air passengers, as millions of claims have to be individually submitted and processed. It therefore recommends obliging transport companies to automatically make compensation payments to affected passengers if they have the required passenger data available. It would then no longer be necessary for passengers to submit an application. Apart from that, it is the Court of Auditors’ opinion that the Commission should issue guidelines in order to define the minimum standards required to inform passengers and to more clearly regulate “re-routing”, which passengers have a right to claim in case of delays and cancellations.
The Court of Auditors also criticises that the procedures applied by transport companies and national enforcement bodies to react to individual claims are not transparent. It can be the case that passengers and air passengers, who undertake the same journey and who are affected by journey disruptions, are treated differently. Apart from differences in the practical implementation in case of the same means of transport, there are also significant differences concerning the rights of passengers with regard to delays in respect of travelling by air, rail, bus or boat. That is why it suggests a stronger coherence of rights.
Alterations with regard to rail passenger rights
One of the examples where the rights of passengers differ between the various types of transportation is the question whether transport companies also have to pay compensation in case of Force Majeure events. Whist especially airlines frequently use this as an excuse not to pay compensation, this is - according to the - no reason for companies to reject compensation if the journey was undertaken by rail. With its proposal to in September 2017, the Commission had intended to remedy this “unequal treatment” applied by transport companies, however, to the disadvantage of passengers. Instead of cancelling the exception of Force Majeure Events in the regulations on as well as with regard to and , rail should adopt it.
On 15 November 2018 on the Commission proposal. Having secured a clear majority of 533 Yes votes to 37 No Votes, Parliament demands that with regard to rail journeys there shall still be no exception in case of Force Majeure events. It also demands that passengers who experience train delays of more than two hours shall be compensated with the full ticket price and no longer only with half of it. In doing so, MEPs have sent a positive and strong signal to rail passengers.
However, the new regulation will only come into force once Parliament and Council have agreed on the exact wording. Whether and when this will be the case, depends once more on the Council that currently does not give priority to this dossier. In view of the forthcoming EU elections it may take months until the final new legislative text on rail passenger rights is available.