Comment: New EU passenger rights proposed for ‘multimodal’ travel

The EU plans a set of rights for passengers completing journeys by multiple forms of transport. Farina Azam explains

The European Commission has introduced a proposal for a regulation aimed at bolstering passenger rights within the realm of multimodal journeys, marking a significant stride towards harmonising standards and enhancing consumer protection across the EU.

The proposed regulation addresses the growing complexity of travel, where individuals often rely on a combination of flights, trains, buses, ferries and other forms of transport to reach their destination.

Such multimodal journeys, while offering flexibility and accessibility, also present unique challenges, including coordination issues, disruptions and inconsistencies in passenger rights.

The EU initiative seeks to mitigate these challenges by establishing a unified framework which ensures consistent rights and protections for passengers throughout their journey.

The rules vary depending on whether the customer has a single contract for the multimodal journey or has a combined multimodal ticket (made with a single payment), or separate tickets (with separate payments) for the journey.

Key pillars of the proposed regulation include:

Clear information and accessibility: Central to the regulation is the provision of clear and accessible information to passengers regarding their rights, as well as details about their journey and any potential disruptions.

These information obligations apply to intermediaries as well as transport operators. Intermediaries include ticket vendors and are widely defined as anyone acting on behalf of operators or consumers in the conclusion of transport contracts.

Assistance and support: In the event of delays, cancellations or missed connections, passengers should receive prompt assistance and support from transport providers.

This assistance may include access to alternative transportation options, accommodation arrangements or reimbursement for incurred expenses. Additional assistance and support should be given to persons with disabilities and reduced mobility.

Where a booking was made through an intermediary, any reimbursement to the traveller can be made through the same intermediary.

Compensation for disruption: Passengers are entitled to compensation for significant delays or missed connections, except in cases where the disruption is beyond the control of the transport provider such as extreme weather conditions or unforeseeable circumstances.

Where a combined multimodal ticket is sold, in the event of one or more missed connections the traveller is entitled to reimbursement of the total ticket amount, plus compensation equivalent to 75% of the value of the total ticket, from the operator or the intermediary unless the tickets were sold as separate transport contracts.

Universal application: The regulations apply uniformly across all modes of transportation involved in the multimodal journey, regardless of whether the disruptions occur during the rail, bus, ferry or other segments of travel.

As such, operators and intermediaries could find themselves liable for reimbursement and compensation for delays and disruptions caused by the preceding transport operator, even where this is a different mode of transport.

The regulation does not apply where the multimodal journey is sold as part of a package, as defined in the Package Travel Directive 2015 (PTD), with the exception of some of the passenger rights relating to reimbursement if reimbursement isn’t provided for in the PTD.

The proposed regulation reflects the EU’s commitment to promoting mobility, sustainability and consumer protection within the transport sector, and is a significant milestone in the evolution of EU passenger rights.

However, the regulation could result in significant liability both for transport operators and the travel companies which operate as intermediaries and ticket vendors on behalf of transport operators.

This could result in transport operators and intermediaries moving away from selling multimodal tickets unless significant strides are taken to ensure accountability throughout the chain, such as rights to recover losses incurred by the intermediary or transport operator where reimbursement or compensation has to be paid to passengers as a result of delays or disruption caused by other transport providers in a multimodal journey.

The regulation applies in addition to existing EU passenger rights regulations in relation to air, rail or sea travel – potentially creating confusion as to which regulation should apply in certain circumstances.

Furthermore, the potential liability for reimbursement and compensation on intermediaries in relation to combined multimodal tickets could undermine the agency/intermediary model operated by many ticket vendors selling transport and marks a significant departure from other EU regulations on passenger rights, which generally only apply to carriers or, occasionally, tour operators.

The regulation is currently going through the EU legislative process and there may be changes to the proposed rules as a result. Further updates are expected later this year.

Farina Azam is a partner at law firm Fox Williams (fazam@foxwilliams.com)

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