Multimodal Passenger Rights in the European Union

The master's thesis of InterTran researcher Maximilian Huemer titled 'Multimodal Passenger Rights in the European Union - Development, Compatibility, and Challenges of the EU Mode-Specific Passenger Rights Regulations in the Light of a Potential Measure for Passenger Rights in Multimodal Transport' has been published in the MarIus periodical (MarIus 524, 2019).

Skriftserien MarIus

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Albeit multimodality in the passenger transport sector not being a novel concept, the passenger rights system in the European Union has so far not addressed it. While the existing legislative instruments on the European level do provide rights for passengers in all main transport modes, these instruments come with a mode-specific scope, and have to a varying degree had to deal with a number of issues and shortcomings in terms of correct implementation and especially effective enforcement.

Despite existing issues and the proper functioning of the mode-specific passenger rights regulations put into question, an expansion of the European Union’s passenger rights system to also cover multimodal journeys is becoming a necessity. As the transport sector is faced with the challenge of facilitating its anticipated growth, while at the same time promoting the most efficient and sustainable modes of transportation, an integral component of what the Commission has coined a ‘competitive and sustainable transport system’, will be the promotion of transport multimodality through increased mode integration. In its passenger dimension, this process should also be accompanied by an adequate protection of passengers in multimodal transportation, especially due to the fact that the current mode-specific scope of existing instruments leaves issues of multimodality unaddressed. This legal gap and corresponding problems would only be aggravated in front of the envisaged focus on enhancing and promoting multimodal transport.

The Commission has already initiated first steps towards addressing passenger rights in multimodal transport. These steps, which so far have come in the form of an inception impact assessment, a public consultation, as well as an exploratory study mandated by the Commission, have focused on the necessity of addressing passenger rights in multimodal transport, as well as the adequate form, scope and characteristics of a potential measure. However, beyond the identification of the particular legal gaps in the mode-specific passenger rights system, there has not been any discussion on the effects on that system by implementing a measure for passenger rights in multimodal transport. Such a discussion is however warranted, as based on its very nature a measure seeking to address passenger’s rights arising out of the combination of transport modes, which are already separately covered under legislative instruments at the European level, may possibly encroach upon that system.

Hence, this thesis aims to provide an answer to the question whether a potential measure for passenger rights in multimodal transport can be reconciled with the existing mode-specific system in front of issues related to its development, compatibility, enforcement, and interpretation. Ultimately, this thesis tries to establish, if it is then actually feasible, in front of the status quo of the mode-specific passenger rights system to implement such a new measure for multimodal passenger rights.

To this end, following the introduction, chapter II addresses the state of multimodal passenger transport in the EU, fulfilling the twofold purpose of outlining the multimodal passenger transport market in the EU and describing the developments towards addressing passenger rights in multimodal transport, as well as its necessity.

Chapter III provides an overview of the current mode-specific EU passenger rights regulations, giving insights into the policy developments that have led to the adoption of passenger rights instruments in all transport modes, and identifying problems, which the regulations have faced. It furthermore analyses the differing experiences with the regulations and in how far these play a role for developing a measure for passenger rights in multimodal transport, identifying possible points of reconciliation.

Based on these, chapter IV then zooms in to compare the iterations of specific rights in the mode-specific regulations. Differences, gaps, and specific problems with these rights are pointed out, as well as implications for a potential transposition of them to a multimodal context.

Lastly, chapter V addresses the practical issues of interpretation and effective enforcement that the mode-specific instruments have faced. It aims to find out to what extent existing interpretative ambiguities and other issues relating to the functioning of the regulations may have a detrimental effect for developing passenger rights in multimodal transport.

In conclusion, it is found that a new instrument for passenger rights in multimodal transport would generally be reconcilable with the existing mode-specific system. However, differences in the mode-specific regulations and related problems represent major hindrances to an application of a number of rights in a multimodal context, and existing issues may be aggravated unless resolved by a multimodal measure. Additionally, restrictions as to potential approaches for applying rights in a multimodal context exist through case law of the CJEU. Furthermore, the added complexity of a new measure would bear questions of comprehension and enforcement.

Reconciliation will also come at the cost of the scope of a new instrument, potentially catering to only a marginal percentage of the overall multimodal passenger transport market. Based on this, as well as the potential for a new measure of actually having detrimental effects on the development of the multimodal transport market, the feasibility of such an instrument is questionable, in front of its goal to adequately fill the legislative gap left by the mode-specific system.