The Consumer Ombudsman has investigated whether VR’s practices concerning the delays and exceptional circumstances of long-distance traffic are legal. The extensive railway faults of August 2021 and the problems to passengers caused by them will serve as an initial impetus for a wider investigation. VR has promised to ensure that passengers’ rights to information, care and freedom of choice are better complied with through, among other things, more detailed personnel instructions.
In August 2022, VR committed to correcting its practices in accordance with the Consumer Ombudsman’s demands. Since then, discussions have been continued to ensure that VR also provides sufficient information on passengers’ rights on its website.
The rights of rail passengers are laid down in the EU’s so-called Rail Passenger Rights Regulation, which the Member States apply directly. The railway undertaking must also comply with the Consumer Protection Act’s general provisions on marketing and practices in a customer relationship.
Information on disruptions must be provided immediately
When the departure or arrival of a long-distance train is delayed, passengers must be informed of the circumstances and of the estimated departure and arrival time as soon as they are known. In practice, the railway undertaking must state, for example, what has happened and whether the journey can be continued or has the train connection been cancelled. In exceptional circumstances, the estimated new departure times, for instance, may change, but in this case passengers must be clearly informed of this possibility. Without this information, it will be impossible for passengers to know what they should do and to what they are entitled.
After investigating clarifying the matter with VR, the Consumer Ombudsman deemed that VR did not have sufficient internal instructions or other practices to ensure compliance with passengers’ rights in long-distance traffic delay situations. The Consumer Ombudsman required VR to inform passengers of the delay and the estimated departure and arrival time as soon as the information is available and to ensure that personnel’s instructions on the matter are sufficient.
Price refund or continuing the journey – freedom of choice must be given in delays
If it is estimated that the train will arrive at the destination more than 60 minutes late according to the timetables, the passenger must immediately be able to choose what they want to do in the situation. Passengers are always entitled to a refund of the entire price of the ticket. Alternatively, they can choose to continue their journey or opt for a rerouting to reach their final destination as soon as possible or, at a later time suitable for them.
It is not possible to, for example, reroute using another train during the same day in all situations. For this reason, the passenger must be able to choose one of these options. For example, if rerouting is not possible, passengers should be informed.
“Trains may sometimes be delayed, but communication cannot. Passengers must be informed of the right of choice as soon as a delay of more than one hour is known, for example, on the train that is about to be delayed if the journey has already begun. The freedom of choice must be actively offered, for example, by means of announcements or instructions from the personnel, not only by referring customers to the website or application."
According to the Consumer Ombudsman’s assessment, VR’s internal instructions for train personnel had shortcomings that were likely to hinder the realisation of passengers’ rights.
Delay of more than one hour entitles passengers to care
When a long-distance train is delayed by more than 60 minutes, passengers must be offered free meals and refreshments in a reasonable proportion to the waiting time if they are available on the train or at the station or can reasonably be delivered there. In terms of care, the Consumer Ombudsman also demanded VR to specify its inaccurate personnel instructions.
Complaints must be processed on time
The Consumer Ombudsman also found shortcomings in VR’s complaint handling process. As a rule, complaints must be responded to within one month. In well-founded cases, the passenger may be informed by which date the reply will be given within three months of the filing of the complaint. According to consumer reports received by the FCCA, VR did not provide all consumers with a justified response to their complaints within the deadline regarding the extensive disruptions in August 2021. VR committed to responding to complaints within the deadlines in the future.