New laws approved by MEPs should make it easier for disabled people across Europe to travel by boat, and could also mean new rights to accessible bus and coach travel.
The regulations approved by the European Parliament will mean that transport providers will not be able to deny a disabled person the right to board a boat, unless it would be unsafe or the design of the ship or port made it impossible.
Ports and ships will also have to provide free assistance to disabled people – as long as they are given at least 48 hours’ notice.
There should also be full compensation for lost or damaged mobility equipment or assistive devices.
And important information about the journey, such as delays and cancellations, should be made available in accessible formats, while the complaints process should also be accessible.
All passenger boats carrying more than 12 passengers will have to obey the new laws, which are set to come into force in 2012, although there will be some exceptions, such as excursions and sightseeing tours.
The European Parliament also approved new laws that would provide free assistance to disabled bus and coach passengers.
But the bus and coach regulations have yet to be approved by the individual EU member states, with negotiations likely to take place this summer.
Campaigners are hoping the regulations will include compensation for lost or damaged mobility equipment, and a duty to provide key information in an accessible format, if they finally become law.
The European Disability Forum (EDF) welcomed both sets of proposals.
An EDF spokeswoman said: “European law applicable in all EU countries is the best way to ensure that disabled people will enjoy a comparable travel experience as everyone else.”
She said that disabled passengers face a “multitude” of barriers with transport infrastructure, vehicle design and staff attitudes, despite the European Union treaty guaranteeing freedom of movement to all EU citizens.
She said there was a “serious lack of information” in accessible formats, poor levels of assistance, and “difficult physical access”.
But she warned that some companies would probably “not respect” the new laws, so disabled people would have to take legal action to enforce their rights, as they did with the EU’s air passenger laws, which came into force in 2008.
The EDF called on the disability movement to lobby national governments to back the bus and coach proposals.