DISABLED people, and those with mobility problems, across the European Union have won important new rights to travel on buses and coaches.

Key gains 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.

For journeys of 250 km or more disabled passengers will be entitled to free assistance both at terminals and on board. There will also be provision for free transport for accompanying people where this is necessary.

In order to get this assistance, passengers will be required to give travel companies notice of travel 36 hours in advance.

In addition, information about passenger rights will become available in terminals and online.

The new rules, which affect all journeys including local bus services, will come into force in 2013.

Fazilet Hadi, RNIB Group Director, Inclusive Society, said: “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.”

Sue Brown, Head of Public Policy at Sense, the national deafblind charity, said: “More accessible travel means disabled people can participate more in society.”

Sue Sharp, Head of Public Policy and Campaigns at Guide Dogs, said: “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.”

Guy Parckar, acting director of Policy and Campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability, said: “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, said: “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, said: “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, said: “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.”