Legally and politically important
Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Women and Equalities Select Committee
Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on rail passengers’ rights and obligations (recast)
Article 91(1) TFEU; Ordinary legislative procedure; QMV
(39062), 12442/17 + ADDs 1–3, COM(17) 548
6.1On 27 September 2017 the European Commission published a proposed recast of the existing Regulation on rail passengers’ rights and obligations. The proposal aims to increase the uniformity of the implementation of rail passengers’ rights across the EU, make targeted improvements to the passenger protections afforded, and reduce certain burdens on rail operators so that rail is not at a disadvantage relative to other modes of transport.
6.2The current EU legal framework in this area—Regulation 1371/2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations—aims to protect rail passengers in the EU by establishing common minimum rules throughout Europe. At present, passengers have rights to information, reservations and tickets, assistance, care and compensation in the event of delay or cancellation, free-of-charge assistance (for persons with disabilities and/or reduced mobility), compensation in the event of an accident, and a system of complaint-handling national enforcement bodies (NEBs).
6.3The Commission is concerned that these protections are not uniformly applied throughout the EU, because the Member States are permitted to exempt a wide range of domestic services (apart from certain mandatory requirements) from the Regulation’s application: long-distance services may be exempted until 2024; urban, suburban and regional services may be exempted for an unlimited period; and services of which a significant part is operated outside the EU may be exempted for renewable periods of five years, indefinitely. The Government has applied all of these exemptions, although they were not renewed in 2014 in Northern Ireland, where Regulation 1371/2007 now applies in full.
6.4The Commission observes that only five Member States currently apply the Regulation in full, with the others having exemptions in place to varying extents. They consider that this deprives passengers of their rights, and that the scope for exemptions should therefore be restricted. The proposal therefore brings forward the removal of exemptions for long-distance services from the current date of 2024 to 2020. It also proposes removal of exemptions for cross-border urban, suburban and regional services.
6.5The Commission states that its proposal seeks to strike a balance between strengthening rail passenger rights and reducing the burden on railway undertakings. It aims to strengthen rail passengers’ rights through the introduction of a general clause prohibiting any form of discrimination; a requirement that basic information about rights be provided at booking and during the passenger’s journey; a requirement that operators “make all reasonable efforts to make through-tickets available”, including to other operators; giving passengers who purchase multiple separate tickets the same rights as if they had purchased a single ticket (unless informed otherwise); and clarifying the complaint-handling process.
6.6The proposal modifies existing requirements in relation to persons with disabilities and reduced mobility (PRMs). Changes include improving rights to assistance on trains and in stations, making clearer the rights of PRMs to be accompanied by a personal assistant or assistance dog, and ensuring that, where information requirements apply, information is available in accessible formats. These changes align the regulation with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
6.7To reduce the burden on railway undertakings, the proposal introduces a force majeure clause that applies in situations caused by “severe” weather conditions and “natural disasters”. The Commission considers that the proposed amendment would help improve the competitiveness of the rail sector and reduce financial burdens. The proposed Regulation also enables railway undertakings to use a new right of redress if delays are caused by a third party’s fault or negligence.
6.8On 19 October 2017 the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Paul Maynard) submitted an Explanatory Memorandum to Parliament for scrutiny. The Minister states that the Government shares the Commission’s objective of strengthening the rights of rail passengers and supports, in principle, the proposal’s aim of standardising and improving passenger rights. He states that the Government believes that it is appropriate for the Commission to legislate in this area.
6.9In terms of the impact on UK stakeholders, the Minister observes, somewhat vaguely, that “most” of the requirements of the current (2007) Regulation are already met or exceeded through domestic rail provisions. However, the Minister does not provide a clear sense of the extent to which the proposal’s provisions are covered by domestic rail provisions, or what its impact will be. He acknowledges that the Government needs to “consider carefully” the detail of the proposals, and to consult with external stakeholders.
6.10In relation to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, the Minister states that the rights put in place by this proposal would apply equally to all rail passengers and therefore benefit rail passengers who are not EU/EEA citizens.
6.11No implementation period is envisaged, so the Regulation would enter into force almost immediately after its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union. Depending on how rapidly progress is made, it is therefore very possible that the Regulation will become directly applicable in the UK either before it leaves the EU or during the Prime Minister’s proposed Implementation Period.
6.12The proposed recast of the rail passenger transport rights and obligations Regulation is a substantial update of the existing Regulation, which dates back to 2007. The proposal would scale back the exemptions that are currently allowed, in order to improve the uniformity of the implementation of rail passenger rights throughout the EU. The proposal seeks to clarify and strengthen many aspects of rail passenger rights, particularly for persons with disabilities or reduced mobility. Finally, the proposal seeks to reduce certain burdens on rail operators, by introducing a force majeure clause for railway undertakings (as for other modes of transport) and granting them a right of redress.
6.13The Government indicates that it supports the proposal’s objectives and considers it appropriate for the EU to legislate to achieve them. However, it also acknowledges that detailed work on the proposal is still required and that it is seeking input from a range of stakeholders. In the meantime, there is a distinct lack of clarity regarding the impact that the proposed Regulation will have in the UK. For example, although the Government observes that “most” of the requirements of the current Regulation are already met or exceeded through domestic rail provisions, it does not specify which of the new requirements, if any, are not, and would constitute an additional right/obligation. The Government does not explain what effect limiting the scope of the current exemptions would have, in terms of UK services to which the entirety of the Regulation would subsequently apply. No analysis is provided of provisions in Articles 22 and 23, which appear to require that assistance for PRMs be available at all times when rail services operate, both in station and on board—potentially a highly significant provision.
6.14We therefore request:
6.15We welcome the Minister’s assessment that the Regulation would have benefits for non-EU/EEA rail passengers travelling in an EU or EEA Member State. Nonetheless, in view of the UK’s impending withdrawal from the EU, we request a more detailed account of these implications. The Committee asks for:
6.16We ask the Government to provide the Committee with responses to the above questions, along with updates regarding the Government’s developing policy position in relation to the proposal, as well as its financial implications, by 24 January 2017 (or earlier if progress in Council requires it). In the meantime we retain this proposal under scrutiny and draw it to the attention of the Women and Equalities Select Committee.
6.17Regulation 1371/2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations aims to protect rail passengers in the EU. It has been in force since 2009. The chief effects of this Regulation were to:
6.18Member States were also allowed to exempt the following domestic services from the application of the Regulation (apart from certain mandatory requirements):
6.19The chief provisions contained in the proposed Regulation are:
Limitation of exemptions to ensure uniform application of the rules (Article 3)—The Commission has noted that only five Member States currently apply the Regulation in full, with the others having exemptions in place to varying extents. They consider that this deprives passengers of their rights, and that the scope for exemptions should therefore be restricted. The proposal accordingly removes exemptions for cross-border urban, suburban and regional services; brings forward the removal of exemptions for long-distance services from the current date of 2024 to 2020; and, for services a substantial part of which are operated outside the EU, requires that Member States grant exemptions only if they can prove that passengers are adequately protected on their territory. Some core provisions of the Regulation (non-discriminatory conditions; availability of tickets, through-tickets and reservations; liability for passengers and luggage; persons with disabilities and reduced mobility) are never exempted;
6.20A range of changes are proposed in relation to persons with disabilities and reduced mobility (PRMs), in Chapter V (Articles 10 and 20–26), as set out below:
6.21Other changes which are proposed include:
6.22In an Explanatory Memorandum submitted on 19 October 2017, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Paul Maynard) states that the Government agrees that it is appropriate for the Commission to legislate in this area in order to ensure that the Regulation is applied more consistently across the European Union. The Minister notes that the recast Regulation remains a minimum harmonisation Regulation, meaning that Member States would be able to retain domestic passenger rights provisions that are more generous than the minimum standards in the Regulation.
6.23The Minister states that the Government “shares the Commission’s objective of strengthening the rights of rail passengers” and therefore “support[s] in principle the proposal’s aim of standardising and improving passenger rights, including by improving access for persons with disabilities or reduced mobility and the requirement for railway undertakings and station managers to ensure that staff have disability training and attend regular refresher training”.
6.24The Minister also states that it understands the Commission’s objective to make rail passenger services comparable to other modes of transport, in order to provide a more level playing field. The Minister states that the Government supports the principle of improved provision of information about passenger rights, and the need for passengers to have basic information on their rights at the point of booking a ticket.
6.25The Minister acknowledges the concerns the Commission has identified on the extensive use of exemptions by Member States, and states that he can appreciate that the Commission is keen to see uniform application of this across Member States; however, he adds that the Government will need to consider carefully the detail of the proposals, in particular any potential costs, in consultation with external stakeholders. The Minister clarifies that the exemptions permitted under Regulation 1371/2007 were put in place by the Department for Transport for Great Britain and by Northern Ireland Ministers for NI (although the exemptions were not renewed in Northern Ireland, meaning that the Regulation has been in full effect in NI since 2014). However, the Minister states that most of the requirements of the current Regulation are already met or exceeded through domestic rail provisions such as the train operators’ Disabled People’s Protection Policies, National Rail Conditions of Travel and the Equality Act.
6.26In terms of the financial implications of the proposal, the Minister states that some of the new requirements in the proposals may not necessarily produce new burdens for the rail sector, as in many areas UK domestic rail passenger rights requirements already exceed the minimum standards in both the existing EU Regulation and in the Commission’s proposals. However, he states that the detail of the proposal will be examined to determine whether there are financial implications for the rail sector or for the taxpayer.
6.27The Minister states that the Government will need to consider carefully the detail of the proposals, in particular any potential costs, in consultation with external stakeholders. He adds that the Government will be discussing the proposals informally with industry, passenger representative bodies and the ORR to inform our view of the proposals and their implications.
6.28In relation to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, the Minister states that the rights put in place by this proposal, where it is in force, would apply equally to all rail passengers. It would therefore have benefits for rail passengers travelling in an EU or EEA Member State, who are citizens of countries outside the EU or EEA.
39 Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on rail passengers’ rights and obligations (recast) 12442/17, COM(17) 548
40 Regulation (EC) No 1371/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations
41 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
42 Explanatory Memorandum from the Department of Transport (19 October 2017)
43 Regulation (EC) No 1371/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations
44 Regulation (EC) No 1371/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations
45 Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States as regards the accessibility requirements for products and services COM/2015/0615 final—2015/0278 (COD)
46 Explanatory Memorandum from the Department for Transport (19 October 2017)
11 December 2017