Executive Summary – Performance Assessment Report on the rights of persons with reduced mobility

This section summarizes the main elements of reflection included the Performance Report of the implementation of Regulation 181/2011/EU on“PEOPLE WITH REDUCED MOBILITY IN ROAD TRANSPORT” elaborated by Deusto Law School students in the framework of the SAPIA Jean Monnet Module (Students Awareness of Public Accountability and Integrity in the European Union), under the guidance of Prof. María-Luisa Sánchez-Barrueco (JMM Coordinator) and Prof. José-Ramón Canedo-Arrillaga (JMM staff).

The Report was submitted to the European Commission on 13 November 2019 as a contribution to the Public Consultation on the European Disability Strategy 2020.

The European Commission adopted the European Disability Strategy 2020 (EDS) in 2010 as part of the EU efforts to fully implement the fundamental right to equal treatment and prohibition of discrimination based on grounds of disability in 2010 (enshrined in Article 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union), as well as to help people with disabilities to carry out a more fulfiling and dignified life, through a varied set of policy measures. Since the timeframe of the EDS is close to completion, the European Commission has launched a Public Consultation to gauge the performance of the EDS and gather impressions from societal stakeholders of all sorts, in view of adopting the next strategic document valid for the 2020-2030 period.

Mobility sits at the apex of the list of obstacles turning daily activities of persons with disabilities into a constant struggle. The scenario where persons with disability must make an extraordinary effort (physical or economic) to move severely impairs their fundamental right to access to essential services such as healthcare services, as well as their right to a dignified life (leisure activities), deepening other breaches in intersectional perspective (e.g. age, ethnic origin, poverty).

Given that SAPIA JMM focuses  on activating Law students to contribute to society tackling problems of accountability with regard to the implementation and enforcement of EU law at the national and EU level, our project consists of a revision of the practical implementation of Regulation 181/2011 on the rights of passengers with disabilities when travelling by bus.

A positive aspect of the Regulation is that any person experiencing reduced mobility (directly or indirectly, permanent or temporary) when travelling by bus becomes a beneficiary of the rights enshrined therein: persons in a wheelchair and those who broke a leg, persons with visual or mental impairment, aged persons, all of them are included. A varying array of rights is then acknowledged to the beneficiaries, including obligations for bus services providers to provide adequate information, accept them on board, provide assistance at terminals and on board, etc. However, the material scope of the Regulation severely restricts the practical applicability of those rights because only bus travels in distances over 250 km are covered.

The Report evaluates the implementation of Regulation 181/2011 in Spain, United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium, The Netherlands, France, Italy and Germany, by examining the extent to which the rights enshrined in the Regulation are guaranteed by economic operators and enjoyed by disabled people and persons with disabilities (DP-PRM) in practice, alongside measures taken by these States to ensure proper enforcement of these rights. Therefore, this Report provides the European Commission with practical insights on the main areas for improvement as to the relationship between disability and road transport in targeted EU Member States. Our remarks and suggestions might be addressed either in the current revision process of the European Disability Strategy or/and in the future upgrade of the Regulation, in order to strengthen the rights of DP-PRM in bus and coach transport and their integration in society.

The research team was composed by 19 students and 2 professors of Deusto Law School and operated in the framework of the subject “Political and Economic Integration in the European Union”, which is inserted in the SAPIA JMM.

The process to elaborate the Report followed four stages:

  1. assessment of the European Disability Strategy,
  2. Selection of a set of rights enshrined in Regulation 181/2011,
  3. Elaboration of indicators to measure the practical effectiveness of these rights,
  4. Survey of public and private  stakeholders in designated cities in the targeted Member States (reflected in the map); through their websites, online questionnaires, and personal interviews, students also carried out on-the-spot checks at bus terminals;
  5. Synthesis of main findings and suggestions for improvement.

Some of our findings are general. For instance, each Member State is obliged to designate a National Enforcement Body to follow up on the implementation of Regulation 181/2011, but in practice the list of National Enforcement Bodies published by the Commission is not reliable, because the national authorities do not update their NEB in a timely fashion. Also, Member States are obliged to produce biannual reports on the results of the Regulation, but in practice national reports are not produced, or not easily available online, especially for persons with disability. Very often, these reports are of low quality and do not meet the basic information or accountability requirements.

Focusing now on specific rights and the extent to which these are enjoyed in practice by persons with disabilities, we found first that the beneficiaries are generally not obliged to pay an additional fee for travelling by bus, even when they carry aid tools such as dogs or wheelchairs. In some countries (e.g. Denmark) the state subsidizes the purchase of private vans by these persons, contributing to their autonomy. Such need was perceived by NGOs of Member States where these financial assistance is not offered by public institutions (e.g. Spain). The main obstacle arising is that adaptation by bus companies to the new paradigm has not been completed yet, and some coaches are still not adapted to the needs of persons with reduced mobility. Flexibility is needed, given the costs of changing the infrastructures and equipments; however, striking differences remain across Member States targeted by the Report.

A major area in dire need of improvement is availability and accessibility of information on travel conditions and procedures. Sheer differences persist across and within Member States in this regard. Access to the designated points at terminals is not user-friendly in a sizable amount of cases. Assistance is available only during office hours, but buses operate at different times as well. Overall, mobility is severely restricted, in practice, when the interested person does not give notice, long in advance, of the need for assistance at terminals, at alighting the bus, and on board.

Linked to the above, the team found severe deficiencies in the training obligations as regards staff of bus companies and terminal management bodies in most Member States. Through mock enquiries, the team obtained first-hand evidence that staff across the desk or telephone line regularly fail to provide the most basic information on mobility and assistance rights of persons with disabilities, in most Member States. This situation clearly goes against the companies obligations to provide specific training on assistance to persons with disabilities, under Regulation 181/2011. One of our major conclusions is that these obligations are complied with in a formalistic way, and are thus excluded from well-reflected career development strategies present throughout the whole working life of staff.

The availability of adapted seats or places on board is also restricted to a limited number of passengers. All the most often, second or third passengers with disabilities will not be accepted on board and will be obliged to wait for the next service. Such situation is seldom known in advance and severely affects the ability of persons with disabilities to plan and meet their scheduled activities.

The Report suggest removing the 250 km distance limitation to include urban transportation in the scope of the rights guaranteed by the Regulation, because most persons face the greatest difficulties to move within cities.

A further suggestion concerns the inclusion of a harmonised definition of ‘person with disability’ entitled to these mobility rights, to prevent disparities across Member States, leading to discrimination across persons with disabilities.

Future upgrading of the Regulation might also include a list of valid grounds for refusal on board to reduce arbitrary measures applied by bus drivers or companies on a case-by-case basis, which reduce the legal certainty as to the capacity to move by bus. To conclude, the experience leading to the submission of this Report clearly shows that Universities represent a hub for the generation of knowledge, not only from a subject matter perspective, but also because of the impressive amount of knowledgeable persons working at Higher Education Institutions. That knowledge may be relied on to serve society in interesting and inspiring ways, working hand in hand with public institutions such as the European Commission to improve the lives of vulnerable groups, of which persons with reduced mobility stand out.

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