Interview conducted by Joshua Stein on Friday, 23 September, 2016.
One of the focuses of your campaign for VPS was ‘Housing and Transport made easier’. How has the taxi service been going?
The soft launch was implemented at the end of last semester, so a lot of the administrative groundwork was already done. It has been hard launched for this new year and any issues have been ironed out over the summer. A lot of the new students are becoming aware of it and we really tried to ensure that students heard about the service during Welcome Week through introductory talks and welcome meetings, to know that it’s there to use. We have also been focusing on some other transport related projects as a team.
And have you spoken to anyone who has used the scheme?
On a personal level, a friend of mine has used the scheme and it is really simple. If you have lost your phone, money, keys or friends, you can either call 0131 229 4466 or hail down a Central Taxi. You just give the driver your matriculation number, and then you pay the Students’ Association back when it suits you. All the drivers for the company have been informed of the scheme so everything’s plain sailing.
So you give them your student number, which pays until you pay the Students’ Association back. It says then on the website that if you do not have the money you can go to the Advice Place. Can you talk me a bit through that process? If you do not have the money to hand, but you have used the taxi, as far as I am aware, you cannot use the service again?
We generally trust that students will pay back when they have the money to do so, in that way there is no deadline. The Advice Place has some short term, emergency loans and funds, so students who do not have the money to pay us back for their taxi fare could go to the Advice Place to speak about financial options. The Advice Place can also help with applications for university hardship loans and other financial aid.
Great. You also mentioned safety, and how the Advice Place is the place to go. Have you got any plans to improve or change the Advice Place or any aims for the year?
We have not got any plans to change the Advice Place, it is a fantastic service as it stands. We are simply trying to make students know exactly what it is. It offers free, impartial, confidential advice on everything except immigration advice – you have to go to the International Office for that. We have lots of trained advisors who can give advice on anything, from safety issues, housing problems, financial concerns or academic worries. There is no question too big or small, which is amazing! So we are trying to ensure that students are aware that it is there, that they do not need to worry about anything on their own.
This is an ongoing project, what other plans have you got?
We have been working a lot on housing and transport in general. We secured a nine month RidaCard to eradicate the problem of students being tied into 12 month contracts, three months of which they may not be here. We are also putting a lot of energy into housing, working with the student housing co-op on refurbishment and expansion plans and continuing the previous work done on affordability in university accommodation. Lots going on!
Going back to the taxis, is there a plan at all to do a survey or questionnaire for people who have used the service?
Ideally, yes. But the scheme is in its fifth official day of being launched. We would need to wait for a year or so to get accurate and meaningful data in order to evaluate and go forward with the project. But for now there is no intention for it to stop as a service, it is not a pilot scheme. In time, we can collect data on the number of users, user feedback, number of repayments outstanding, number of related Advice Place queries.
And I have to mention the Meadows, obviously they have been an area for scrutiny over safety. Have you got any plans concerning the Meadows? For example, two years ago police presence was increased.
I think we are all aware that travelling home through the Meadows is not a safe way to get home and no-one should have to go through it. If you have run out of cash, you are sort of forced to do it if it is your route home – which it is for many people. I see it as our obligation to ensure students are safe and do not find themselves between a rock and a hard place, sacrificing their own safety to get home after a night out, or a night at the library! This applies to any area of the city, not just the Meadows. I am aware that this is something that students are passionate about, and discussions around CCTV and extra lighting have been ongoing. This taxi scheme hopefully shows that student safety is at the centre of our focus, on campus and beyond. It is definitely on the radar.
Last thing, how is it all going as VPS? You’ve into your first few weeks of university term!
Almost a third of the way in, time’s flown. It’s going really well; been super positive. Summer was a great time to meet everyone, get fully trained and inducted, learn the ropes. But it’s been also been great to have students back, talk to them about who we are, what we do and what they can do to make change too. I am very excited to work with students, staff and other reps to get some more fantastic results over the year!
Image: Paul Trujillo