Brussels, 11 March 2013
Rail transport: Commission seeks to improve access to rail travel for persons with disabilities and passengers with reduced mobility
The European Commission is making accessibility an essential requirement for rail infrastructure when newly built, upgraded or renewed. Accessibility can be achieved by preventing or removing barriers and through other measures such as provision of assistance. The rules apply to infrastructure (e.g. obstacle-free routes, ticketing, information desks, toilets, visual and spoken information, platform width and height, and boarding aids) and to rail carriages (e.g. doors, toilets, wheelchair spaces, and information).
"Making rail transport more accessible to everyone is at the heart of our strategy for a high-quality, sustainable transport system in Europe", said Vice-President Siim Kallas, EU Commissioner for transport. "This change represents the first in a series of actions by the Commission this year to further improve access to transport for people with disabilities and persons with reduced mobility in Europe. It establishes a direct link to EU-level technical specifications for rail accessibility already available and sets an example of good practice for other modes of transport. It also demonstrates the EU's commitment to meeting its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities."
Having common rules on accessibility at EU level enhances and facilitates the travel experience across the EU of persons with disabilities and all those whose mobility is reduced, for example by the natural ageing process, temporary impairments due to accidents, or by travelling with children. Accessibility features also improve the overall quality of the transport experience for all passengers, and help with implementation by the rail sector since one common solution will work across the EU. In these times of austerity, having coherent rules across the EU is an effective way to reduce costs and technical hurdles.
One in six people in the European Union – around 80 million – have a disability that ranges from mild to severe. Over one third of people aged over 75 have disabilities that restrict them to some extent. These numbers are set to rise as the EU population grows progressively older. Most of these people are all too often prevented from fully participating in society and the economy because of physical or other barriers, as well as discrimination.
Europeans strongly believe that disabled people should be able to participate fully in society, according to a Eurobarometer survey by the European Commission (November 2012). Among those asked, 97% said that people with disabilities should be able to go to school, get a job or access shops like anyone else, and 7 in 10 respondents say better accessibility of goods and services, including transportation, would very much improve the lives of disabled people, the elderly and others, such as parents with young children.
The EU has committed to creating a barrier-free Europe by signing and ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. In line with the Convention, the Commission adopted a comprehensive strategy in 2010 to create a barrier-free Europe for disabled people by 2020.
The 2011 White Paper on Transport aims for a high-quality and efficient transport system and identifies the improvement of the quality of transport for elderly people, passengers with reduced mobility and people with disabilities, including better accessibility of infrastructure as an objective.
A comprehensive set of EU regulations on passengers' rights across all modes establishes rights to travel and to assistance for passengers with reduced mobility. Regulation on rail passengers' rights and obligations establishes that disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility have the same right as all other citizens to free movement.
The Commission's proposal for a regulation on union guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network foresees that transport infrastructure should allow seamless mobility and accessibility for all users, in particular elderly people, persons of reduced mobility and disabled passengers.
The European Commission is also currently preparing proposals for a European Accessibility Act set to come out in 2013, which would address the accessibility of goods and services in the EU.
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