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I bought a ticket for the Vienna Erdberg to Bratislava Airport section of a bus route. The bus was on time but failed to stop at Vienna Erdberg—incredibly, it just whizzed past me and some 15 other passengers standing patiently at the posted departure platform.

According to what we could find about EU bus passenger rights, the bus operator was obliged to re-route us to our final destination "under comparable conditions at no extra cost and at the earliest opportunity". None of us was able to get in touch with the bus operator at the time to ask about this (they don't list a phone number on their website, and the bus station itself was unstaffed due to it being a public holiday). We hurriedly searched for alternative connections and found two: the first option was to take the metro to a train station, followed by a regional train to Bratislava, followed by a bus to Bratislava Airport; the second option was to take a taxi directly from Vienna to Bratislava Airport. Since many of us had flights to catch, and the first alternative connection seemed too tight, we ordered shared taxis and filed claims with the bus operator afterwards to recoup our expenses.

The bus operator has now replied that they will refund the original bus ticket prices, but not the taxi fares:

Unfortunately, due to our terms & conditions, modes of transportation such as Lyft/Uber, taxi, airline, limousine, etc. are not considered comparable carriage to that in which you had originally booked ("bus").

Are they correct in this interpretation? We assumed that "under comparable conditions… and at the earliest opportunity" would include the cheapest possible shared ground transportation that got us to our destination on time. Is "comparable conditions" a term with a specific legal meaning? (In case it matters, the original bus tickets were about €7 per person, while the taxi fare worked out to around €50 per person.)

I'm asking because we have the option of appealing the bus operator's final decision to the Austrian Agency for Passenger Rights, but will do so only if there's some non-negligible chance that the appeal will succeed.


EDIT: Per @GiacomoCatenazzi's comment and my cross-checking with the bus's full timetable, it seems that the bus was not, in fact, a "long-distance bus" according to EU law, and so the EU passenger rights I mentioned do not necessarily apply. However, the bus operator's terms and conditions still describe compensation for delayed or cancelled trips, and use the term "comparable conditions", and so my basic question is still valid, at least insofar as it relates to enforcing the original contract.

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    Note about EU bus passenger rights: mainly apply to regular long-distance bus and coach services and * Long-distance means that the scheduled distance of the service, not your individual trip, is 250 km or more* which it is not your case. You may get some more than 7 EUR by telling they lacked information and contact point. Then you can go legal (so off-topic in this site). I think the T&C, chapter 17 is clearly non-enforceable. You have a ticket so a contract, and it is illegal to tell that professional part can cancel without penalties (and that it is your task to ask reimbursement). Jul 22, 2022 at 9:24
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    I don't think "under comparable conditions at no extra cost and at the earliest opportunity" would obviously cover a taxi. If you think about air transport, it basically means rebooking you on the next plane. Also, this is really an obligation for the operator to find a solution. You may get some mileage out of their negligence and the fact nobody was reachable but the idea is that they must figure out a reasonable alternative, not that you can choose whatever you want and demand they pay for it.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 22, 2022 at 9:50
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    If you look at the EU page, you will see the rules even foresee having to wait for up to 2 days and being only entitled to minimal assistance (cheap accommodation, no compensation like that for delay in air travel). In other words, you have a right to eventually be brought to Bratislava, not to demand that the operator pulls all stops to bring you there fast.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 22, 2022 at 9:55
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    Sounds like you’d have more success making a claim under your travel insurance
    – Traveller
    Jul 22, 2022 at 10:24
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    In this case both your and the operator's interpretation are "reasonable" and "defensible" so if push comes to shove that would have to be decided by a court or equivalent. I suggest contacting a local lawyer and let them have a look at it. You may have a chance here, since potentially there was "gross negligence" by the operator involved . Feel free to move or repost on law.stackexchange.com
    – Hilmar
    Jul 22, 2022 at 13:37

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This is a bit of a sensitive question. I believe there are some court cases (e.g. regarding maritime transportation) and sometimes divergent guidelines from national authorities but I am not familiar with all the details. The relevant EU regulations do not really define what “comparable conditions” are. Some of the disputes around this came from replacing a plane by a very long bus or train journey or asking people to use the landbridge over England instead of a direct France-Ireland ferry.

Importantly, on the face of it, the right to re-routing is not a right to make your own arrangements and demand that the operator pay for it. It's an obligation for the operator to find a solution with a bit of leeway as to what that solution might be. That's where the “comparable conditions“ kick in: the operator does not need to offer travel under the exact same conditions but merely “comparable” conditions. Yet, there is no fine and no clarity on what exactly you can do when an operator fails to respond in a timely manner or to provide a good solution.

I will note that all these regulations also make allowance for long-ish delays. There are nuances depending on the regulation and each of these rights is independent but for example the rights to assistance and compensation for air travel only kick in after a 2 to 4 hours delay. The bus passenger right web page you linked to even implies that having to wait up to two days is acceptable, as long as the operator pays for a cheap hotel and meals.

So the clause about “comparable conditions” is there to protect you against an operator trying to force you to accept a very inconvenient route or less comfortable means of transportation and not to define a list of solutions you could choose from. Getting to your destination in time by any means necessary is not really part of it and it's hard to argue that the next plane or bus on the same route would not be “comparable conditions”, if the operator would offer it.

Some comments also rightly pointed out that the relevant EU regulation might not even apply to this route. While Flixbus is a long-distance bus operator (and doesn't seem to have noticed they can get out of trouble in that way), Vienna-Bratislava is too short to qualify.

For all these reasons, I think an appeal based on the definition of “comparable conditions” is doomed. Your best bet is to focus on the lack of information and support on the ground (this may be actionable even in the absence of any passenger rights legislation) or perhaps turn to travel insurance, as suggested in a comment.

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    That's thorough reading of the situation but in my opinion it doesn't take account that the bus operator drove by the passengers which could be "grossly negligent" or even "malicious". There may be a legal lever here.
    – Hilmar
    Jul 22, 2022 at 21:43
  • @Hilmar I alluded to this in the last paragraph (and an earlier comment) but I have no idea about the specifics in Austria. In any case, I don't think relying on bus passenger rights or the meaning of “comparable conditions” would lead anywhere.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 23, 2022 at 22:26

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