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Train passengers with disabilities: journey full of problems

An owner of a guide dog can receive a discount on the railway fare for the animal. However, persons using assistance dogs will not receive a similar reduction in ticket costs. The HFHR asked the Minister of Transport and Construction to address the issue of the absence of standards for charging fees for rail travel of persons with assistance dogs.

The Terms of Service of PKP Intercity, a leading Polish passenger service operator, guide dogs are named as a type of assistance dogs. Despite the above, the company’s transport services price list contains no information on a discount on the railway fare for assistance dogs. The only exception is guide dogs for which travel fares is reduced by 95 per cent as compared to the standard fare for canine passengers. This means that discounts are available only to visually impaired owners of guide dogs while persons with hearing problems or physical disabilities are forced to pay animal fares in full.

In its statement, the Helsinki Foundation emphasises that PKP Intercity’s Terms of Service do not provide any reduced fare option for owners of other types of assistance dogs even though such animals mitigate the negative consequences of a disability in the exactly same way as guide dogs do in the case of visually impaired persons.

“If a person with a disability is assisted by a dog, this person may actively participate in social life”, says Dr Dorota Pudzianowska, the HFHR’s legal expert. “Even though mobility assistance dogs, signal dogs or a medical alert dogs are listed in relevant laws, the railway carrier decided against offering fare reductions for owners of such animals”, Dr Pudzianowska adds.

The HFHR indicates that there is no objective justification for differentiating charges for guide dogs and other types of assistance dogs. Under the Constitution, persons in comparable situation should receive the same treatment which means that all persons for whom assistance dogs provide necessary help in mitigating consequences of a disability should be treated in the same way.

In its statement, the HFHR urged the Minister of Transport and Construction to cause a change in the law that regulates reduced fare entitlements in public transport services. The statement referred to examples of good practices from Sweden, Germany, Slovakia, Finland and Norway, where no charges are paid for rail travel of all assistance dogs.

“As regards the problems that are faced by persons with disabilities who travel by train, the practice of unequal charging of travel fares for assistance dogs is just a tip of an iceberg”, notes Dr Pudzianowska. “We have recently been informed about, say, the case of a passenger who was deprived of necessary assistance during his journey, despite having requested such assistance. We will certainly keep on monitoring these issues”, Dr Pudzianowska says.

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