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Minister wants eight-year delay in new rights for disabled passengers

Minister wants eight-year delay in new rights for disabled passengers
19th July 2012 developer

The government is seeking to delay major parts of a new European regulation that would have given powerful rights to disabled bus and coach passengers.

The European Union regulation on bus and coach passenger rights is due to come into force on 1 March 2013.

It includes a right to full compensation for lost or damaged wheelchairs, non-discrimination in booking tickets and boarding vehicles, and disability awareness training for all staff who deal with customers.

But EU states have the right to seek lengthy exemptions from other key parts of the regulation, and a consultation document published this week by Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Baker says the coalition wants to “make use of all available exemptions in order to delay costs to industry and give them more time to prepare”.

These other rights for disabled passengers only apply to journeys over 155 miles, but EU member states can still exempt their regular domestic bus and coach services from these rights for up to eight years.

The rights the UK government wants to delay include the right to compensation if a passenger has a reservation and has explained their need for assistance in advance but is still prevented from boarding the coach or bus.

The government also wants to delay a disabled passenger’s right to free assistance at major coach terminals and on board coaches, if they have notified the provider at least 36 hours before departure; and the right to be accompanied by their own assistant at no extra charge if the transport provider is unable to provide suitable support.

The Department for Transport said the eight-year delay would mean “significant monetised benefits” – of more than £8 million – for bus and coach operators and the bodies that run major coach terminals such as London Victoria and Birmingham.

But it admitted that the delay would cause “costs to passengers, including disabled people and people with reduced mobility” of more than £1 million.

The government also wants to take advantage of another exemption, delaying compulsory disability awareness training for bus and coach drivers by five years.

The consultation document points out that disabled people in the UK will still have the protection of the Equality Act.

Baker said: “We want people taking coach trips and long-distance bus journeys to get a fair deal. However, we also want to avoid tying operators up in expensive and unnecessary burdens.

“I believe that the approach outlined in this consultation finds the right balance between passenger protection and operator competitiveness and I hope that groups likely to be affected by these changes will agree when they respond to our proposals.”

The consultation closes on 11 October.