On 15th February 2011, disabled people, and those with mobility problems, across the European Union won important new rights to travel on buses and coaches. UK charities are celebrating this success after a strong campaign lead in this country by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), Sense, Age UK, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Guide Dogs, Radar and RNID.

Key gains for disabled and older people include accessible travel information both before and during the journey, mandatory disability awareness training for all drivers and a right to compensation for damaged wheelchairs or other assistive equipment. In addition, information about passenger rights will become available in terminals and online.

Members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg approved this Regulation, which will come into force in 2013. Importantly they will apply to all journeys, including local bus services.

Fazilet Hadi, RNIB Group Director, Inclusive Society says: "This is a fantastic victory for disabled people! For blind and partially sighted people being able to use a bus service means greater opportunities for employment, further education and social activities like seeing your family. It's key to independence and quality of life. RNIB thanks all the MEPs who have supported the campaign and their disabled constituents."

The European Parliament vote follows the approval of the text on 31 January 2011 by EU governments, including the UK government.

UK charities will continue to campaign to see these regulations implemented without delay, in line with commitments made when the UK government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Sue Brown, Head of Public Policy at Sense, the national deafblind charity, says: "More accessible travel means disabled people can
participate more in society, so Sense welcomes the European Parliament's decision. Getting about is something a lot of us take for granted and disability awareness training for transport staff and accessible travel information means more deafblind people can understand and use public transport to go to work, doctors' appointments and visit family and friends. We hope UK and other EU governments will take this opportunity to make public transport part of a fair society."

Sue Sharp, Head of Public Policy and Campaigns at Guide Dogs, says: "Disabled people rely on bus services more than non-disabled people. This regulation will make a real difference by making those journeys easier and less stressful. We are delighted at the support of MEPs in helping to secure these important changes for disabled people across Europe."

Guy Parckar, acting director of Policy and Campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability says: "This is very positive news. Restrictions when using transport are among the biggest barriers to social inclusion for disabled people. This change should help to build a transport network
that is more user-friendly and accessible."

Marije Davidson, Public Affairs Manager at Radar, says: "This is a real step towards accessibility for disabled people. Despite disability discrimination legislation, disabled people still experience negative attitudes and can't get on inaccessible buses. This will strengthen our rights and improve access to education and employment. Radar wants these measures to be implemented as quickly as possible."

Michelle Mitchell, Age UK's Charity Director, says: "This new EU law is great news for the 150 million Europeans in later life, including over 4.5 million older people in the UK who use local buses at least once a week. Bus services can be a lifeline, particularly for those with reduced mobility. This regulation guarantees older people a right to transport, and should mean better service from drivers who now start to receive mandatory disability training."

Roger Wicks, RNID's Director of Research, Policy and Government Relations, says: "People with hearing loss often face unnecessary communication barriers when trying to obtain information about everyday travel disruption or cancellations. These ground-breaking regulations, which require drivers and terminal staff to receive disability awareness training, will have a tremendous impact by making bus and coach travel more accessible for passengers who are deaf or hard of hearing."

A version of this article is also available in Polish.

Published 22/02/2011