In September 2017, the Commission published its proposal on revising the Rail Passenger Rights Regulation, which has been in force since 2007. In doing so, it wants to harmonise the level of protection of passengers within the European Member States, remove uncertainties and provide people with limited mobility with better access to rail journeys. The first exchange with experts in the Transport Committee of the European Parliament took place on 20 February 2018; however, it became clear that large differences exist between the ideas of rail operators and passenger representatives.
The exchange between MEPs and experts concerning the revised version of the Rail Passenger Rights Regulation in the Transport Committee (TRAN) of the European Parliament showed that one of the key conflict issues concern the regulations for through tickets, that means, when a ticket includes one or more ride changes and different rail companies. Whilst several passenger representatives emphasised that it had to be obligatory for companies to offer those and that it would be in the interest of the rail if passengers could use a single ticket to change trains and make long journeys, company representatives referred to the free market and the competition provided by companies. From their point of view it should be sufficient to offer through tickets on the basis of voluntary agreements, as it is already possible now.
Representatives of passenger organisations also criticised that the existing regulations on compensation payments in case of delays or cancellations shall remain unchanged. At 25 % of the ticket price from an hour and 50 % from two hours, compensation is very low; a reason why many, who have been affected do not make an application. Improved passenger rights would mean greater customer satisfaction and higher motivation for companies to avoid delays. In addition, due to the continued possible exception of local and regional transport, the major part of passengers is excluded from compensation, if not - as is the case in Austria - additional rights have been integrated at national level.
Company representatives pointed out several times that the rail should have comparable passenger rights as other types of transport, in particular bus transport. They regard the proposal, according to which events of force majeure should exclusively include natural disasters and extreme weather conditions, where no compensation has to be paid, as too narrowly defined. In contrast, passenger representatives pointed out that particular in air traffic, companies often justify delays with force majeure and refuse to pay compensation even though it was not force majeure at all.
With regard to accessibility, Nadia Hadad, representative of the European Disability Forum, criticised that many rail stations still not provided accessibility and that there was still a great need for action. In contrast, the infrastructure operators pointed out the practical implementation difficulties. Apart from that, they are critical of creating obligatory emergency plans in stations as provided for in the proposal.
The rapporteur on the Rail Passenger Rights Regulation in the Transport Committee of the EU Parliament, Boguslav Liberadzki (S&D), made it clear that a balanced relationship between passenger rights and reasonable requirements for companies had to be achieved without causing excessive additional expense. However, from a consumer point of view, uniform rights within Member States were of key importance.
During the debate, several MEPs were disillusioned about the lack of willingness by company representatives to increase passenger rights. The Chamber of Labour too is aware of the fact that a high level of protection for passengers is required, a reason why several points with the framework of the regulation draft have to be assessed critically. This concerns the exemption options for through tickets as well as the regulations in respect of force majeure. The Chamber of Labour will continue to participate in the matter to secure the right of rail passengers at European level.