TAXI chiefs have questioned a move to ban traffic from half of George Street throughout Festival season, raising concerns about how revellers will access city centre events.
A traffic management shake-up will see cafes replace vehicles along large stretches of the famous thoroughfare, with traffic continuing to flow westwards along the southern side from Frederick Street and eastwards on the northern side from Hanover Street.
The changes will double the amount of pedestrian space and encourage alfresco dining – a benefit widely embraced by the street’s hospitality industry.
If successful, the new traffic enforcements could become a permanent feature on George Street.
But Central Taxis director Tony Kenmuir has raised doubts about the viability of the new layout.
“Broadly speaking we would support anything that helps the city to develop the Festival – it’s good for the whole city, not just the taxi trade,” he said.
“But I do think the council is inclined to forget that if you want to increase footfall in the city centre, one way to do that is to make it easier to get in and out of town – not harder.
“It seems the council’s answer is to make it as hard to get there as possible. It’s gridlock round town during the Festival and closing more streets doesn’t feel like an answer to me.”
Transport bosses have revealed there will be opportunities to “refine the detail” of the plan, which has received a mixed response from local businesses.
Martin MacLeod, assistant manager at Browns Restaurant, said he supported the introduction of larger traffic-free zones.
He said: “Pedestrianising the streets outside Browns would be very welcome and suit our staff serving in the street, but I would hope that closing part of George Street wouldn’t impact on our neighbours in the surroundings.
“We already have pavement tables and the opportunity to extend that would be welcome.”
Ruth McKay, Edinburgh chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said traders would prefer the dust settled on the tram project before another “big change” was made in the city centre – and questioned the validity of a dummy test run in August, which was not a “typical month”.
Echoing this view, David Birrell, chief executive at Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said enhancing alfresco dining opportunities was a “good idea”, but stressed the “atmosphere during August was unique” and not representative.
Councillor Lesley Hinds, transport convener, said: “I’m confident there will still be enough access to help get people into George Street to enjoy what’s happening there, but we have ongoing discussions with various interested parties and there may be a chance to refine the detail of our plans.”