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Today I represented MACS (Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland) attending the Scottish Passenger Transport conference hosted at the Roxburgh Hotel in Edinburgh.  As with other recent events I stayed overnight at the Ibis on South Bridge.  My stay was pleasant as expected with the only nuisance being that the Wi-Fi and mobile phone signals were intermittent due to the recent inclement weather.

Approximately 80 delegates attended the conference which started at 09:50 and ended slightly later than scheduled at 15:40. The Minister for Transport and Islands gave an opening speech reiterating his support for greater partnership between the public and private sectors and indicating a willingness to regulate the industry if this is required. He also identified some of the advances in transport throughout Scotland such as new air routes, awarding of ferry routes contracts, more affordable ferry and bus through government subsidies, the proactive use of social media to communicate travel information to customers and the mobile first approach used on the new Scotrail website.  We had a talk from the Traffic Commissioner for Scotland who was very firmly on the side of the passenger and who indicated the importance of bus drivers and companies providing the best possible quality of service for passengers in return for upholding their operating licenses.  I was hoping to pose a question about where taxi travel fits into the scheme of things as, although most if not all taxi services are run by private companies, they do carry members of the public and surely must be regulated somehow.  In particular I wanted to know what the procedure was for having complaints investigated in the event of poor service experienced by customers.  Sadly, I wasn’t picked to ask the question but I may well take this up with somebody privately as soon as I find the appropriate contact.

There was a strong emphasis on smart travel including the use of apps to improve the journey experience and smart ticketing, something which the Minister spoke about so passionately at the Bus Stakeholder Group I attended at the Scottish Parliament last week.  This concept would be materialised by, for example, having a single ticket or smart card for a journey involving multiple modes of transport, e.g. a bus into town, train across the country to a ferry terminal and then a ferry over to the island.  This would make journeys easier for passengers due to less paperwork, save money on logistics and administration and allow for better infrastructure and customer management through knowledge of passengers’ travel patterns and transport utilisation.

However, as well as all this positive news there was also a recognition that transport providers and other organisations, including local authorities need to do more to work together in partnership to avoid needless disruption.  For example, when different transport providers are undertaking infrastructure works that will cause disruption to users of other transport modes (such as rail engineering works resulting in closed bridges or roads), this needs to be made known widely and in advance so that people can plan around it.  The register of road works needs to be kept up to date so that local authorities can made road users aware of this in a timely manner.  The list goes on but hopefully the point has been made.

It was interesting to listen to the head of aviation at Edinburgh Airport who told us about how transit through the airport has increased markedly in recent years, spurred by education, employment and the introduction of new routes including those to and from the Middle East.  He mentioned how tourism has become a key driver for the airport.  Customers now have more choice as there are often multiple airlines flying to the same destinations, e.g. London.  The government’s commitment to reducing air passenger duty has also helped significantly.

George Hazel talked about the economics of passenger transport, the effect on land and house prices close to transport centres, how we need to become more innovative and think about how services and products are bundled.  For example, he mentioned how in the future car ownership may reduce drastically to be replaced by the uptake in account-based services with companies that provide mass or individual transport couple with additional offerings such as parcel delivery to parked cars or more affordable and demand-responsive mass transport.

Lunch was enjoyable with a wide selection of finger bites.  I had tuna, egg and cheese with pickle sandwiches, pizza, quiche and haggish sausages rolls with strawberry sponge slices for dessert.  The conference staff were excellent at looking after me and were happy to guide me around the conference venue and assist with lunch.  They were also good enough to rig up a table with a power extension cable so that I could use my laptop for taking notes throughout the day.

Lunch was followed by a presentation focussing on some of the research that is currently taking pace to better understand passenger habits and life trends.  for example, it has been proven that more people are shopping within town centres rather than using larger out-of-town supermarkets which was the trend in the 90s.  This has implications for traffic management as well as the provision of public transport such as buses, design of bus routes and on the economies of towns and cities.

I was interested to hear the talk from the head of Stagecoach East Scotland and the Confederation of Passenger Transport, Andrew Jarvis on the concessionary travel scheme operating in Scotland that gives qualifying people free bus travel.  This includes older people, those with disabilities and younger people below the age of 19.  The government provides a subsidy to bus operators for each passenger carried however this has been reduced over the years to the point where the scheme is becoming less attractive and affordable for operators.  I was also interested to learn that the free travel to which qualifying persons are entitled includes travel on coach services such as those offered by Citylink and Megabus.  I didn’t know this before and it may encourage me to travel more by long-distance bus particularly when Mum is off work as she does not qualify for any reduction on travel by rail, whereas I do due to my visual impairment and the same concessionary travel scheme.  Andrew also spoke on how things are done abroad; for example, in Finland a trial was run whereby public transport operated in real-time in response to demand rather than according to a schedule.  I cynically thought this would be great here as half the time buses do not operate to time anyway!

Overall the conference was very interesting especially given that it was not all focussed on rail which is my first passion.  I feel my understanding of the bus industry has been heightened and this can only stand me in good stead as I am part of the bus and community transport work stream within MACS.  I was a little annoyed that so many speakers hailed Uber as a success and whereas this may be the case in terms of customer numbers, no-one seemed interested in focussing on some of the negative aspects such as the lack of regulation and safety concerns, particularly for vulnerable passengers.  There was a lot of information to take in and I’ll have to write this all up in a report for MACS, but the day was definitely worth it and I’m really glad I was chosen to go.  My next big conference may be one on intelligent transport systems in June but I’m waiting for details on this.  Watch this space for more.
It's hard to believe how time flies but it's that time of year again when I've started preparing (if you can even call it that) for the British Acoustic Shooting Championships in Wolverhampton.  This year they take place on the weekend of 27/28 February.  It seems earlier than usual however actually I think it’s only due to the additional day in February and the fact that the same astronomical time of year has moved back to the start of the week.

I finally managed to have some long overdue shooting practice on Thursday as it was a week where I was both in town and not tied up in meetings or travel to one thing or another.  I wisely decided to practice the free-standing discipline as to my shock I realised I've not even tried that since at least last summer or even earlier.  I did reasonably well, although I do need to re-form my arm and hand placement as the rifle shakes too much for my liking.  My hand wasn't too sore wearing a pair of slightly thicker fingerless gloves that Ali, one of my fellow shooters at the Bon-Accord Small-Bore Rifle Club *and my best friend here in Scotland) gave me last year but the fingertips were like icicles, with inevitable results.  My arm and shoulder were both sore after the shoot but that is to be expected.  I think I managed about 60 shots, however if I do manage to get another practice shoot I'll have to up my timing to ensure I can do the whole match including sighting shots within the 1 hour 45-minute time allowance.  I will unfortunately miss the next two or three regular shooting sessions due to RNIB work but our coach Jim kindly offered to come in any other day that I can manage as now that he is retired, he has far more flexibility and is happy to assist.  I don't like the idea of imposing on him even more but I may have little choice.  My plan is to take the rifle back with me the next time at the club to prevent the possibility of not having access to it before our departure to Wolverhampton on 25 February.

Ali had a potentially disastrous malfunction with his rifle when the small threaded nut which marries to the long bolt holding two halves of the stock together broke.  Without this nut there is nothing for the screw to grab onto and consequently the rifle is barely held together and shakes like crazy when used.  We have no spare parts and thus Ali was forced to order replacements from an Air-Arms reseller.  Fortunately, Don, a regular sighted rifle and pistol shooter, happened to be at the club at the time the fault was discovered and was able to advise on how to go about sourcing the replacements.  Ali made payment for this today so all being well the new nuts (he ordered four just in case) will arrive before next Thursday.  Even though he's had far more practice relatively speaking than I over the last months, I nevertheless would not like to see anything that would prevent him being able to participate in the competition or do his best.  Fingers crossed all works out. 

In the meantime, I've booked a favourable rate at the same hotel as last year (hopefully without all the faults, health and safety hazards and death traps) and now I just need to finalise the travel.  The Lamington viaduct between Motherwell and Lockerbie is still being repaired and thus our usual train route is not available without use of a rail replacement bus, not something we're keen on with the weight of our cases and for stress reasons.  I must therefore find a reasonable and cost-efficient way of getting to Wolverhampton via Newcastle and Carlisle, a challenge I welcome.  Less than one month to go and counting.
Today I attended a meeting of which, I confess, I was unsure what to expect.  It was a consultation by Scotrail at their office in Glasgow on a new 'Assist Mode' being introduced into accessible toilets on the new class 385 trains on the Edinburgh-Glasgow route in the coming years.  We were not given any additional information beforehand so had no idea what was up for discussion, and I will admit I was somewhat disappointed at the scale of the outcome.

I attended with my fellow colleague from MACS along with representatives from SATA, Inclusion Scotland, Guide Dogs Scotland, the Scottish Disability Equality Forum and other independents.  The meeting lasted for two hours, much of which was taken up with questions interspersed with slides from a presentation delivered by the project managers.  The 'Assist Mode' essentially allows an assistant to enter and leave an accessible toilet without the need to open the door fully, thus somewhat maintaining the dignity of the person inside.  It was very much apparent that this was intended to benefit wheelchair users who may require one-to-one support to transfer to or use the toilet.  I cannot foresee any regular situation where someone with, for example, a sensory impairment would require assistance from someone who would then use this mode.  For those who have never seen an accessible toilet on a train, it consists of a larger cubicle with a curved door thus allowing a greater angle for entrance by someone in a wheelchair.  The other reason for the curved door is to allow for a turning circle for the wheelchair within the toilet without taking up additional real-estate on the train using a square design.  I personally don’t like using them due to the larger empty space inside making it harder to find door controls etc., and also the fact that due to the large door and opening angle it is possible for everyone outside to see what is happening inside whilst the door is opening or closing, a period which I have seen to exceed 10 seconds.

I found the meeting a little frustrating as many people present were asking questions that would later be covered in the presentation.  In addition, people seemed to get 'hung up' on certain issues at a level of detail that could not result in any tangible change to the design of the toilet due to the need to strictly adhere to regulations, in this case the Persons with Reduced Mobility Technical Standards for interoperability  It also became evident that the designers could not or would not implement anything more than the standards prescribe, something which I personally disagree with s I believe the standards should dictate the minimum that should be expected from a design, not the ultimate maximum with no room for improvement...  Another thing that was disappointing was learning at the very end of the meeting that a mock-up of this toilet with 'Assist Mode' will not be available due to the tight timescales for deployment of the new trains.  Had this been mentioned at the beginning, including the fact that very few of the suggestions and comments mentioned today will result in meaningful change to the current design, I feel the meeting could have ended sooner and resulted in less deliberation over points which would ultimately influence little.

Anyway, the fact that there is consultation and that we were engaged with is to be welcomed, and one can only hope that lessons will be learned for future projects to deliver even better outcomes.  I also wish to praise the presenters and Scotrail staff who fielded what were often very pointed questions with calm and perseverance.  The meeting started at 11:00 and I was home by 16:30. I had hoped to spend the afternoon with Kayla in Stirling but this had to be postponed partly due to the need for me to collect outstanding stronger painkillers from my local chemist before it closed.
I spent what was a somewhat manic day attending two events after staying overnight at the Ibis South Bridge in Edinburgh last night.  I firstly attended the Bus Stakeholder Group at the Scottish Parliament having offered to go as the MACS Convenor, who usually attends these meetings was unable to do so.  On arriving at the Parliament and clearing security I was introduced to Tom Davie, the chair of the group who made me feel welcome and at ease especially given that bus and community transport issues are not an area where I have any significant expertise.  We eventually arrived at the meeting room which was some distance from the Parliament entrance in the old section of the building.  The Minister for Transport and Islands, Derek Mackay was also in attendance for the first part of the meeting and emphasised his vision for better joined up working between public and private bodies, something which is very important in helping to fill gaps in transport provision, especially in rural areas or, for example, where transport is necessary to allow patients to attend hospital visits on time.  The Minister’s second vision was for better and more innovative smart ticketing.  This involves being able to travel across transport modes without the need for complex ticket buying, multiple payment systems and simplification of ticket types and remits.  I am also in favour of this as, for example, current systems do not allow me to independently use rail ticket barriers with my concession card, or purchase tickets for use on both bus and rail when travelling with a companion who is entitled to free travel on the bus but not on the train.  As advised earlier I thanked the Minister for his presentation and expressed MACS' gratitude for its representation on the group, saying that we had found it beneficial in informing the work that we do and on bettering our understanding of this policy area.  There followed commitment by representatives of the bus industry to follow-up on the Minister’s points.  The Minister then left and there commenced a discussion on several issues including the registration of bus services and the reduction in notice time before changes in routes or timing take effect, the current financial climate which has largely resulted in static cash flows versus increased demand for services and how partners can work together.  On the latter point I mentioned the need for more work in the integration of health and social care area, again referring to the need for adequate transport provision for hospital patients.  A scheme that demonstrated this was in place in Lochaber but was pulled due to a lack of continued funding.  I was thanked by the Chair for raising this point as it had not been mentioned beforehand and was assured this would not be forgotten.

I previously had concerns about timing for the day however these were resolved when the meeting ended earlier than expected.  I rushed to Edinburgh Waverley station and was able to make the connecting service to Galashiels to attend the first RNIB Scotland local members event.  Ironically this was also on the theme of transport and I arrived part-way through a presentation on the passenger assistance offered by Scotrail by their Access and Inclusion Manager.  There was also some discussion on the accessibility of bus services, a plug for the Talking Book Service and computer training offered by Online Today, a lottery funded initiative launched by RNIB last year.  As a member representative I was glad to attended even if for only one and a half hours, however I was a little disappointed by the relatively low local turnout.  I suppose this has to be expected though given the time of year and the fact that these local events are still relatively new.

I was very glad to get back to Edinburgh especially as I didn't have a chance to catch lunch and only had a light breakfast, however I was so tired after a late night talking with friends yesterday that I slept for four hours without realising it and only ended up having dinner at 21:30.  Fortunately the Ibis has a 24-hour bar and snack area and the main restaurant doesn't close until 23:00.  The staff were great and I'll be providing a review of the hotel which I have come to enjoy in a separate post.  Overall it was a busy but productive day and I've been able to play my role as expected without any faux pas on my part.  Tomorrow I find myself in Glasgow for a meeting on accessible toilets with Scotrail and then home.
23rd-Jan-2016 05:44 pm - Rosie's - The Tea Room That Never Was
I was looking forward to Kayla's visit to Aberdeen that we started planning a week ago and was waiting to meet her at the train station yesterday afternoon.  Since our first unsuccessful visit to Rosie's Thistle Tea Room on Thistle Street in December when we found it closed, Kayla had wanted to try visiting it again and so we made our way there arriving just as the sun was setting.  We found it closed again, despite the page on TripAdvisor and Yell showing it as open.  I guess we should have realised something was wrong when there was no answer when we tried phoning throughout the day and when the number I tried as listed on Yell disconnected.  Disappointed, we ended up stopping by an ice cream shop just a few doors down where I had a mint choc chip ice cream cone with sprinkled sparkles whilst Kayla had a tub of sherbet and bubble-gum ice cream sprinkled with aero and other chocolate.  The shop was nice and cosy with a bar that customers can sit at although I wasn't sure if the springy chairs with a half-back were deliberately designed to encourage one to remain seated for as short a time as possible.

We then returned home and as we were both a little tired spent time listening to music and browsing YouTube before a Kayla-requested dinner of chicken steaks, chips and peas.  An early night followed and we were tucked in by 22:00.  We recently discovered that the washing powder we use at home is far too strong for Kayla's eczema and, although I wasn't aware of this earlier, remains present on washing long after it has dried.  Kayla therefore brought one of her special sleep suits, designed to protect the skin from outside irritants with her and this worked allowing her to have a relatively pain-free night.

This morning we had a late start - the goose-down duvet Mum bought me for Christmas really does keep one snug, but eventually made our way into town.  The plan was to find me a new pair of trainers as my current ones are shamelessly falling apart, get my new Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 that I ordered upon release a screen protector fitted (I can never see to line them up exactly with the device and unless this is done correctly the first time it leaves horrible air bubbles and wrinkles on the protector's surface) and also visit the (other) Rosie's cafe in Rosemount Place.  The plan was scuppered from the start as Kayla was asked to return home earlier than planned due to a lack of transport in Stirling with Dad off to see the rugby in Kilmarnock.  We therefore had to quickly change tack and walked to the cafe, further away than we thought but which proved to be a good find I the end.  I had cream of sweetcorn soup, chicken and mayonnaise sandwiches and a can of Irn Bru whilst Kayla had a tuna and mayo panini and a blueberry and banana smoothie.  The presentation was excellent and we found that the cafe is actually a social enterprise employing people who have been disadvantaged in the labour market and giving them the skills to remain employable whilst offering good quality food.  Prices are reasonable and the enterprise also has a crafts shop in Holburn Street.  To our annoyance our assumption was corrected when we also discovered that this cafe has no connection to the previously mentioned tea room and in fact that the latter has been closed down for a couple of months.  That's a shame as it did look very good when checked online.  I just wish owners would make the effort and keep advertisements for their outlets updated online to benefit all who may wish to visit.

We taxied home in time to pack Kayla's kit before I saw her off at Portlethen station.  It was great to have her stay again although as always time was too short.  We've made plans for her to visit again next week if this is acceptable to all so I'm looking forward to that.
Today I attended the first RNIB Customer Council meeting of 2016.  After an uneventful flight to London City in contrast to my bad experience before Christmas I arrived in time to enjoy a proper sausage roll with actual sausages in the RNIB Cafe before the meeting started at 11:00.  As previously the meeting was held in a room at 1KX some distance down the street from RNIB HQ.  We started with an introduction to 3 new members appointed to the council and an overview of the RNIB Single Community (now known as RNIB Connect) and an idea of the planned timeline for launching the community on 01 February 2016.  The launch will include the distribution of the first community magazine to all current RNIB members as well as information on Insight Radio and other platforms.

After lunch, which for me consisted of a vegetable and chicken wrap (I've been warned off my favourite salmon and cream cheese sandwiches by Kayla as they seem to make me ill given past experiences), we received an outline of all of the current projects within which the council's input is taken.  This is as several projects have changed to reflect RNIB priorities as initiatives such as the new community come online.  We will then be asked which projects we wish to associate with; for me it's likely to be the building seamless services, digital and knowledge projects.  Finally, we heard about work that took place in Belfast before Christmas.  New ideas for customer service improvements were modelled at RNIB's operation in the city and ideas from that will presumably be incorporated into staff training.  there is a possibility that other council members may be given the opportunity to get involved in this, something in which I would definitely be interested.

The meeting ended at 15:00 and I then had an uneventful trip back to Aberdeen.  The net Customer Council meeting is on 16 March although I may have to miss this due to a clash with two other commitments I may be unable to avoid. 
Today I met with Kayla in Stirling for lunch.  I've not seen her since the start of the year as she had to cancel attending the audio-described rendition of the Sound of Music I went to see last weekend.  I travel to London tomorrow for an RNIB Customer Council meeting and thus could only manage to spend a couple of hours with her but it was enough and better than nothing.  It was my turn to choose the restaurant so I chose La Ciociara after some good reviews on TripAdvisor.  It's a short walk from the railway station and other than being a little cold and draftee was quite enjoyable and reasonably priced for an Italian restaurant.  I arrived in Stirling at 14:45 and on reaching the restaurant I ordered chicken live pate, mint choc chip ice cream with After 8's and a bottle of Prosecco.  I've been wanting that drink since the ill-fated Christmas lunch with the Dominoes group in December and finally resolved my desire.  Kayla had a bread basket, steak pie and half pint of banana milkshake.  We didn't have time for her dessert as I had to catch an early train home, partly to avoid a taxi bill due to a lack of connections to Portlethen after 20:00 and partly due to the travel to London.  I've yet to pack although I'm travelling light this time and also more importantly need to find my tickets.

As I write I'm in the staffroom at Dundee railway station where it's moderately warm. I'm not sure I'm strictly meant to be here but the member of staff that assisted me from the train had no issue with it and I'm thankful for his kindness.  Even in the main waiting hall it's very cold and my fingers are definitely feeling it.

Kayla is due to travel to visit me in Aberdeen on Friday so I'm looking forward to that.  I'm not sure if she'll stay over the weekend; I've love it if she did but I'm not putting any pressure on her and will take things as they come.
Last night I travelled to Edinburgh for a night at the Ibis Centre South Bridge to allow me to attend to MACS business without the early pre-5am start from Aberdeen.  I took a rail replacement coach to Dundee which arrived on time in 1 hour 40 minutes and then a connecting service to Edinburgh.  As coincidence would have it I met one of my fellow rail work stream colleagues on the latter service and we were thus able to travel together, accompanied by a worker on the EGIP (Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Project) which made for interesting conversation.

The hotel was what I expected having enjoyed my time at the only other Ibis I've ever stayed at St Andrews Square Edinburgh.  The room was basic but clean and I loved the wood panelling on the walls.  I had a Caesar salad and macaroni cheese for dinner, microwave heated but still edible including a Coke for £13.70 and then went to watch Bridge of Spies with a friend from Leeds at the Vue Cinema at Ocean Terminal.  Ironically the place is just a stone's throw from where the MACS meetings are held at Victoria Quay. 

The film was great although there is a very long intro and out-take with just music that could probably cut 20-25 minutes off the length of the film if it were dropped.  I won't spoil the plot but just to say I thought the actor playing the Russian spy was hilarious with his Scottish accent; even more so when it came out in the plot that he was from York.  I also found it funny to hear the child explaining to his dad what would happen when the Russians attacked and how to avoid it.  The film started at 20:20 and ended at 22:40. On returning to the hotel, I decided to catch up with my friend Lucy whom I haven't spoken to since last October and after tracking her down we were on the phone until after 2am.  It was great to speak with her; I never thought I would see the day when she was in Scotland, in Thurso of all places with her new boyfriend.

I skipped breakfast in the morning as I didn’t feel like paying the additional and extortionate £8.50 for the privilege.  I arrived for a rail work stream meeting by 09:30 at which we finalised what members of the work stream will take on certain pieces of work.  I retain the brief for Edinburgh Waverley, the Edinburgh Gateway station, the Scotrail Equalities Group and some other minor issues.  I also have the honour of helping to write the contribution for this year's annual reports now that the previous joint rail work stream lead has stepped aside.  It'll be my turn for the full thing next year.  The main meeting started at 11:00 and as we didn't have any external speakers joining us we mainly discussed existing issues and pieces of work that different work streams were doing.  We then had aural reports from each followed by comments on reports submitted.  Given the recent issues with my laptop the Convenor was happy to take my reports later in the year once I have re-written them.  I have also been asked to attend the Bus Stakeholder Group meeting at the Scottish Parliament next Tuesday in lieu of anyone else being available.  During the day I made a point to thank the MACS sponsor for her support in obtaining upgraded dictation software for me as typing becomes increasing difficult as the Raynaud’s in my fingers worsens, and given the compatibility issues between my previous software and Windows 10.  I was advised that I only need to ask if any further help is needed in the future.

Although a lot was discussed the meeting passed very quickly.  The return journey home was without incident as we have not been affected with snow as has fallen across the western half of the country, including where Kayla lives in Stirling.  The next MACS meeting is in April. 
If you believe that life is a set of scales and that it is kept in balance by both good and bad things, all I can say is that the scales must be faulty as I've had a disastrous start to this year.  After my laptop died a sudden death on 04 January, I took the machine apart and after failing to get any power to the hard drive when connected externally to another machine, I took the drive to a data recovery specialist in Aberdeen last Wednesday.  They said they would look at the drive and report back, which I received on Friday.  They said that unfortunately the read and write heads on the drive were damaged and that there was also media damage on the platters.  They offered a platter exchange which I decided to take a gamble at - the data was valuable enough to justify that.  Today I received the result.  There is 95% media damage and the 5% that was recoverable did not contain any usable data.  This means that I've lost everything on the drive.  initially I was gutted and very upset, but after long contemplation I've been able to rationalise things to a fact of life.  Yes, the photos are a loss but the memories remain in my head and there will be new memories in time.  The music can always be re-downloaded as can the software as and when I need it.  Some of my blog entries that I have yet to upload are gone but I guess I can always re-write them and I have a good memory for recalling past events.  Fortunately, the login information for online banking that I lost was recovered via the bank's website without needing to wait for security codes in the post.  I also have my tax and self-assessment information backed up to Dropbox, and have subsequently transferred everything to OneDrive.  I've also now set OneDrive as my default save location for documents on my new laptop.  I'll also take a weekly backup of all the OneDrive content onto my new Western Digital My Passport external hard drive that I wrote about last week.

I'm effectively starting with a clean slate for a lot of things, but it could have been much worse.  A lot of work related files can be retrieved from e-mail attachments stored on my IMAP server and copies of past receipts etc. can be requested from the relevant sources.  It's a traumatic event, but I'll learn from it and at least I've got what really matters, minimal though it is.
For my first MACS commitment of the year I met with representatives from the City of Edinburgh Council's roads department to discuss plans to radically change the roads layout and environment around the capital and Haymarket station in particular. I would not normally have attended as this is largely roads work stream business, but given it involves an area in the vicinity of and access to Haymarket station it was felt that rail work stream representation would prove useful.

After an hour's delay due to missing the train from Aberdeen owing to heavy traffic I nevertheless and finally reached the meeting venue at Victoria Quay. Most of the (now) two hour meeting was involved with discussing the best layout of road junctions to provide accessibility for people with disabilities. The Council have plans to use Copenhagen-style junction where there is a raised 'pathway' for pedestrians to cross over road junctions that looks a little like a flattened speed bump. What makes things more awkward is that the Council also want to introduce cycle lanes and the conundrum was how to allow people to cross these safely whilst not impeding free-flowing access for cyclists. It turned out that I was a useful contributor to the meeting as given my visual impairment I was able to stress the importance of tangible notification of when it is safe to cross, for example using the traditional controlled pedestrian crossing with both audible and illuminated notifications. My impression was that the Council felt that this was not necessary as long as tactile paving was used to indicate crossing points as well as the pedestrian footway. Another hindrance to accessibility is the fact that the footway would be level with that of the road and cycle lane so without adequate visual and tactile cues it would be easy to inadvertently traverse onto the road.

Other topics covered include the plan to relocate the taxi rank currently opposite Haymarket station to a site up to 100m further to the right as you exit the station. This does not solve the problem is how to cross that road which also has tram lines running through it, not does it address the issue is disabled, elderly or people with luggage experiencing difficulty walking this additional distance. There were no plans as to how people would request a taxi or any thoughts as to how to ensure assistance for passengers or other members of the public wishing to hail a taxi, bearing in mind that no parking provision would be made directly in front of the station.

We were told that all our points would be noted and that a follow-up meeting will take place to discuss revised plans in light of the discussion. Far from being reassuring though I felt this has the dangerous potential of setting a precedent for future infrastructure planning in other cities where accessibility will become yet more complicated than it is already.
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