Thursday, 12 January 2012

Seeking my fortune in the great city

Before all my mobility problems started, I was probably travelling into Central London two to three times a week for my work.  I'm lucky that I can work from home, but I've had to cancel some important face-to-face meetings and I will never know what the impact of missing them was on my business.  Today I made my first trip in 15 months.

I decided to take things one step at a time.  I scheduled a lunchtime meeting at Marylebone Station.  This meant firstly I avoided the morning and evening rush hour and secondly I didn't need to change trains or platforms once boarded at my local station.  Before my TravelScoot this would have been an £80 return taxi fare.  Today it cost me £9.50, so I'm already seeing a payback on my investment.  Another 20 trips and I'll break even!

Since the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995, the government introduced regulations concerning the accessibility of rail and public service vehicles. Accessibility has been more or less part of the design of most public transport vehicles or stations opened or introduced in the last 15 years.  All of the major stations have step-free access, along with most of the local ones.  Where step-free access isn't available, the train companies can sometimes provide a free or reduced rate taxi service from your local station to the nearest accessible station.

Hats off to Chilterns Railways who have enhanced the lift access at a number of their stations in recent years and they also provide a free taxi service to and from accessible stations.  You can download their taxi policy here.

Getting on the train was straightforward. I declined the stationmaster's offer of a ramp to board the train.  When the train arrived I missed the designated wheelchair area, however it was easy to park the Scoot in the opposite doorway (away from the platform).  Once parked it was short enough not to block the central corridor of the train and narrow enough so that it still kept one of the double exit doors completely clear, should anyone need to use them. I engaged both brake locks and I was able to sit close by.

Getting off was also easy.  I found that instead of pushing the Scoot off the train, I was able to walk alongside it and gently twist the throttle.  This saved having to overcome the slight drag of the motor.  Then it was just a case of whizzing past my fellow passengers and heading through the extra wide ticket gate and on my way.

The return trip was just as simple.  This time I tried the designated wheelchair area (marked with a yellow sticker on the outside of the train).  I can't say this made it any easier today, but it could be better if I was travelling at a busier time, as I would be able to sit right next my Scoot and keep the doorways completely clear.

Next time I plan to extend my journey with a bus trip from Marylebone to Oxford Street, to see if London Buses are just accessible.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Come Fly With Me

This post gets a bit technical, so if you're happy flying with your TravelScoot, just skip it - I don't want to lose you so soon!  I know many people have travelled the world without a problem, but for others the experience can be hit and miss, with some even refused boarding. I wanted to get as much information written down now while I had the time so I could refer back to it later, rather than searching in a panic for answers while in the back of a taxi on the way to the airport.

One of the reasons for choosing the TravelScoot was the ability to travel normally through an airport.  When I say normally, I guess I really mean independently without the hassle of waiting around for an airport assistant with a manual wheelchair.  I only tend to fly two to three times a year but hope to increase that frequency.

Airline guidelines on mobility scooters have some common themes, mainly that you can check them in at the boarding gate rather than with the normal hold luggage.  Hardy has some great tips on the TravelScoot website here.

Don't be put off by the airlines quoting Dangerous Goods Regulations that talk about a maximum lithium batteries limit of 160 Wh.  The TravelScoot small lithium ion battery is 230 Wh.  These restrictions apply to batteries contained within laptops, cameras, phones, etc.  Separate guidelines exist for mobility aids.

Worldwide airline guidelines on all lithium batteries are governed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations 2012 which if you're very bored can be downloaded here (it's 23 pages long).

Here's the important bit:
Lithium-ion battery powered wheelchairs or other similar mobility aids for use by passengers whose mobility is restricted by either a disability, their health or age, or a temporary mobility problem (e.g. broken leg), are permitted in air transport but subject to the following conditions:
(a) the batteries must be of a type which meets the requirements of each test in the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria, Part III, section 38.3;
(which is here; batteries manufactured, distributed or sold by major companies do meet this requirement.  The TravelScoot lithium batteries are made by Sanyo)
(b) battery terminals must be protected from short circuits, e.g. by being enclosed within a battery container, and the battery must be securely attached to the wheelchair or mobility aid;
The TravelScoot battery terminals are protected from short circuits by a recessed connector
(c) the operator(s) must ensure that such mobility aids are carried in a manner so as to prevent unintentional activation and that they are protected from being damaged by the movement of baggage, mail, stores or other cargo; and
(d) the pilot-in-command must be informed of the location of the mobility aid.
It is recommended that passengers make advance arrangements with each operator.

The US Department of Transportation regulations are supposed to match the IATA on rechargeable lithium batteries.  However the DOT and FAA do seem to impose an additional variation on the limit to the lithium content (25 grams) on ALL batteries (including those in mobility aids), which is why the TravelScoot battery falls within this limit.

All very complex and a little confusing. If we're confused then you can bet there will be confusion amongst airline ground staff.  The responsibility to prevent passengers travelling with dangerous goods sits with the airline (in fact the pilot in control of the aircraft), so when I find myself needing to fly, I'll be sure to get something in writing from the airline HQ before I book and print as much of the regulations as I need to.

Delivering the goods

Delivery was via Parcelforce.  Everything was packed into a single box (87cm x 39cm x 29 cm).  The combined weight of the Scoot and two batteries made for a very heavy box (as the Parcelforce driver was quick to complain about!), so if possible get your delivery driver to place the box where you intend to unpack and assemble it.

The assembly was straightforward and is well documented in the manual (download here), so I don't have much to add.  Just bear in mind that you will need to spend 10-15 minutes on the floor putting things in place and maybe tightening a few bolts with the supplied Allen key set (in a black wallet the size of a credit card), so you do need to be mobile enough to do this or get some help.  That aside, nothing about the assembly is a two-person job.  I connected both batteries to their chargers and both showed that they were fully charged.  Just remember to plug the chargers in before connecting it to the battery.

If you order a spare belt, then this and the Allen keys will fit into the pouch at the front of the supplied fabric basket that sits in the middle of the trailing arms.

OEM Accessories

Any accessories ordered at the same time as a TravelScoot are shipped at no additional cost, so it seemed to makes sense to plan ahead for things I'll need in the future.  I selected a spare drive belt, the travel set that protects everything during airline travel (for use when checking the TravelScoot at the door of the aircraft), and a spare Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) battery.

SLA batteries

I couldn't afford another spare lithium ion battery.  While I'm unlikely to be exceeding the 11-12 mile range of the lithium in one day, I would still like a backup in the car.  All lithium batteries (laptops, mobile phones) don't like excessive heat as they can explode, so the SLA made sense to keep in the boot on hot days.  Also the extra weight of the SLA didn't bother me as a spare.  The SLA is also supplied with a charger (which is different to the one used with the lithium).

SLAs do suffer from self discharge of 3-5% a month or about 50% a year and this increases in the hotter summer months.  SLAs don't need to be fully discharged before charging, in fact the opposite is true - fully discharging can damage the battery permanently. My SLA came fully charged, so as long as I don't need to use it, I intend to charge it around April, July and October to avoid damaging it by letting the charge get too low.

Show me the money


UK and Ireland residents with long term disabilities should be able to claim full VAT relief on the TravelScoot.  See here for UK HMRC information or call the National Advice Service on 0845 010 9000.  For Irish Office of the Revenue Commissioners information see here.  Other  countries may offer this releif, so it is worth checking with your local tax office.  I'll be happy to collate links to other tax office websites in a separate post.

The prices on the website include EU VAT at 19%.  To calculate the ex-VAT price, just divide the price by 1.19

i.e. Standard TravelScoot = 1340 Euros divided by 1.19 = 1,126 Euros. 

You can then call your bank to get an estimate of what the exchange rate will be in British Pounds, as it will differ slightly from the trade exchange rates found online.


The ordering process was straightforward.  I completed the contact form on the TravelScoot EU website and requested a VAT exemption form.  Hardy (owner and inventor of the TravelScoot) was quick to reply with the form in Word document format, which I completed, signed, scanned and returned.

I had a few other questions for Hardy throughout the process and it was refreshing to be talking to someone who has knowledge, passion and automony. There's no "I'll have to contact the manufacturer", theres's no "I'll have to check with my line manager", just straightforward immediate facts.

With the VAT exemption form returned, it was then just a case of selecting the Scoot (I went for the Deluxe) and accessories (which I'll cover in my next post). The online transaction process will show the 19% VAT inclusive price during ordering, which might be unnerving but don't panic, the VAT is deducted prior to processing your credit card and you'll receive an invoice showing the ex-VAT amount.

So, I ordered on Wednesday afternoon, it was shipped on Thursday and arrived from Germany on Monday morning.

Once upon a time...

After much deliberation I've decided that I need a mobility scooter. It's fast approaching a year since I was given ciprofloxacin (a flouroquinolone antibiotic similar to levaquin) which side effects left me with reflex sympathetic dystrophy in both my Achilles tendons.

Like for most people it was a tough decision to get one. I'm one of the fortunate ones, in that I seem to be recovering very gradually, having gone from being completely reliant on a manual wheelchair, to using crutches and now walking about 50 yards unaided. But it's hit and miss, good days and bad days, and I don't know if or when I will make a full recovery.  I'm 36 and in the last 12 months I've missed endless trips to the park, walks in the country, business meetings, flights and holidays, etc. and I don't want to miss any more.

I've hired full-sized mobility scooters a few times and I really enjoyed the freedom it gave me, but their size and weight would have been impractical, I wouldn't be able to get one in my car and my house wouldn't be able to store one.

A Google search of a lightweight mobility scooter took me to the TravelScoot website and so the story begins...