Disabled people have finally secured “important rights” to travel on buses and coaches across the European Union (EU), following two years of negotiations.
The new EU regulation will guarantee non-discriminatory access to transport and a right to accessible information before and during a journey.
There will also be compulsory disability awareness training for all drivers, although member states will be able to exempt themselves from this duty for five years.
The regulation also includes a right to full compensation for lost or damaged wheelchairs and other assistive equipment, while information about passengers’ rights will have to be provided in terminals and online.
And for journeys over 250 kilometres, disabled passengers will be entitled to free assistance at terminals and on board coaches.
If a passenger has made a request at least 36 hours before departure, and the transport provider is unable to provide suitable assistance, the passenger will have the right to be accompanied by an assistant at no extra charge.
Member states will be able to exempt their regular domestic services from this assistance duty for up to eight years.
The regulation was approved by MEPs this week after it was agreed by individual EU governments last month, and will come into force in 2013.
Europe’s leading disabled people’s organisation, the European Disability Forum (EDF), said that, although the final regulation “does not include all our demands”, it provides disabled passengers with a “set of important rights”.
An EDF spokeswoman said the 250 kilometre limit was “very, very high”, while the need to notify transport providers of a need for assistance 36 hours before the journey was too long.
EDF said its members would have a “key role” in ensuring there was “constructive dialogue” with bus operators and transport bodies over implementation of the regulation, but it called on EU countries not to ask for exemptions.
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “The EU regulation will secure significant benefits for passengers, including disabled people and people with reduced mobility, whilst containing transitional arrangements to ensure the industry has time to prepare.
“Decisions on whether to use the available exemptions to delay the application of certain requirements will be taken next year following consultation with interested parties.”
RADAR said the move was “a real step towards accessibility for disabled people”.
Marije Davidson, RADAR’s public affairs manager, said: “Despite disability discrimination legislation, disabled people still experience negative attitudes and can’t get on inaccessible buses.
“This will strengthen our rights and improve access to education and employment. RADAR wants these measures to be implemented as quickly as possible.”