Sunday

5th Dec 2021

Opinion

How EU trains discriminate against the disabled

  • 'We all need to travel to work, to go to appointments, to visit friends and family or to attend last minute meetings. Can you imagine what it's like to have no right to independent, spontaneous travel?' (Photo: Erwyn van der Meer)

Want to catch a train in the next hour? All you need to do is buy a ticket, turn up and go.

If I wanted to do the same, it wouldn't be possible. As it stands, EU law doesn't give me a right to travel by train when I want to. It is time to change the law.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Most people take their right to take the train for granted - I don't. But this week the EU Council are finalising their amendments on the EU rail passengers' rights regulation, will I get the same rights as other Europeans?

One-in-six people in the EU has a disability. Most trains and railway stations in Europe are still inaccessible.

As a consequence, 80 million EU citizens with disabilities and millions of other passengers with reduced mobility still can't travel across Europe independently.

I am one of them. As a blind man I need assistance to ensure I catch the right train. For a wheelchair user, what is needed may be a ramp to board the train at the station of their choice. However, EU law requires us to give two days' notice to get the assistance we need, even for our daily commutes.

Think about it.

I am blind, so I can't drive. Travelling by train should be easy but in reality, this is what happens:

If there's good weather and I want to go to the beach, I can't travel by train.

If I have an urgent family issue and need to travel to another city to see relatives, I can't travel by train.

If I urgently need to see a doctor in another city, I can't travel by train.

We can't travel like everyone else. It is frustrating, annoying and time-consuming. In short, it is unacceptable.

Think we can all access rail travel? Think again.

We all need to travel to work, to go to appointments, to visit friends and family or to attend last minute meetings. Can you imagine what it's like to have no right to independent, spontaneous travel?

What it's like to have no access to affordable options for urgent travel? For passengers with disabilities who need assistance, there is no effective right to spontaneous rail travel across Europe.

Pre-notification rules to get assistance are obsolete, disproportionate and discriminatory – they must be abolished.

Making rail infrastructure and vehicles fully accessible is part of the solution, but such changes will not happen overnight.

In the meantime, we want the right to 'turn up and go' at any station and get the assistance we need to catch our trains.

This should be part of standard 21st century customer service everywhere in the EU, at each rail station and for every train.

Equal access to transport is a human rights issue.

The EU and all its member states have now ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the convention includes an obligation on all states parties to give persons with disabilities access to transportation on an equal basis with others.

In short, the current review of the EU regulation on rail passengers' rights must deliver equal access to rail travel.

It is time to deliver on these obligations, so let me be clear:

A requirement to provide two days' notice to get assistance is not equal access.

A requirement to provide any sort of notice to get assistance is not equal access.

Pre-notification requirements to get assistance for rail travel are discriminatory by design – these rules belong to the dustbin of history.

Equal access means putting an end to pre-notification requirements.

European citizens expect the right to travel spontaneously – the right to 'turn up and go'.

European citizens with disabilities have the same expectations. Enshrining discriminatory provisions in a regulation on the rights of passengers would be against the spirit and the letter of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

I have been experiencing barriers to my freedom for decades. Millions of European citizens with disabilities experience those same barriers on a daily basis.

Enough is enough

With political will, barriers can be removed. As president of the European Disability Forum, and as someone with a disability, I will not accept rules that would perpetuate discrimination.

EU legislators have a personal and collective responsibility to deliver equal access to rail travel for all citizens.

We want the right to 'turn up and go'. No more excuses. Pre-notification must go. Make it happen.

Author bio

Yannis Vardakastanis is president of the European Disability Forum.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Why 500,000 disabled people won't get to vote in May

In May, hundreds of millions of Europeans will head to the polls to elect the next members of the European Parliament. Yet around 500,000 persons with disabilities will not be able to exercise this most basic of democratic rights.

The plight of Europe's disabled under coronavirus

'As a single mother, I am now caring for my severely disabled son alone, 24/7, without any assistance, without rest, with more demand for shopping, cooking, feeding and intensive care.'

Investigation

Why are cross-country train tickets in EU still so complex?

Why no price-aggregating website for international trains in Europe? Why is it almost impossible to buy a single ticket for a cross-border train? It's easier to go by plane - and governments are making sure it stays that way.

Dalli promises to unblock women on boards directive

Malta's nominee for EU commissioner for the new equality portfolio, Helena Dalli, promised on Wednesday (2 October) an ambitious programme to fight all types of discrimination, stereotypes, and gender-related issues across Europe.

News in Brief

  1. Covid: Belgium might close schools and cultural activities
  2. EU consumers can sue Facebook, judge advised
  3. French centre-right tilts toward Pécresse
  4. EU urged to blacklist Israeli spyware firm
  5. Austria's ex-chancellor Kurz quits politics
  6. EU agency: Omicron to be over half of infections 'within months'
  7. New German restrictions target the unvaccinated
  8. EU commission unveils proposal to digitalise justice systems

This 'Black Friday' is a turning point in corporate accountability

Much supply-chain abuse remains hidden from plain sight – not only to consumers but to the companies themselves, who have built increasingly longer, more complicated, and more opaque supply chains, which have become harder to monitor, control and account for.

The South China Sea should be of concern to Europe

If China is allowed unimpeded to break the law of the sea in the South China Sea, think about the repercussions elsewhere. It could ricochet into Europe's High North. In the Arctic, Nordic nations have overlapping claims with Russia.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. Belgium tightens Covid rules as health system 'is cracking'
  2. EU and US tighten screw on Lukashenko
  3. Belgian impasse leaves asylum seekers on snowy streets
  4. EU 'missed chance' to set fossil-fuel subsidies deadline
  5. EU energy ministers clash amid gas price uncertainty
  6. ECJ told to dismiss Poland and Hungary rule-of-law challenge
  7. Covid: what Germany got right - and wrong
  8. Quick Take: Enrico Letta

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us