Motorway services are an essential part of a long journey

Motorway services are an essential part of a long journey. Whether you are a family heading off on holiday or a lorry driver travelling hundreds of miles every day they offer the chance to rest and refresh. People's needs are simple – they want to use the toilets and get food and drink. But it's also vital for road safety that drivers get back behind the wheel feeling rested. Our new Motorway Services User Survey looks at whether services are delivering a good customer experience and how well they fulfil that road safety function.

The survey was launched by the Minister of State, John Hayes, at Beaconsfield services on the M40. Extra, operator of that site, hosted the event where over 50 guests heard details of the research and discussed the implications for the industry.
We spoke to 8700 people in the research across all 112 official services; they told us that the experience is a good one with nine in ten saying they were satisfied. The services are clean, you can get the things you want and there is a good choice of food. Staff are friendly and the service is quick. These findings show that motorway service operators are largely getting the basics right.

Stopping at the services has a significant and positive impact on mood. After the visit people described themselves as happier and more relaxed – up from 58 per cent to 78 per cent. There was also a big reduction in people feeling stressed, frustrated and tired after their visit – down from 26 per cent to nine per cent. Drivers feeling less stressed and more awake highlights a potentially beneficial impact on driving standards.

So overall these results are impressive. Is there anything that the private sector who operate these services can do to improve things further?

While nine out of ten thought the quality of the food and drink was good only 64 per cent rated it as value for money. While it isn't unusual to see lower scores on value for money – other research we've done reflects this – it is an important area for customers. Motorway service operators need to make sure that their customers feel that the experience they get is worth the money they spend.

The range of food and drink generally scored well with nine out of ten rating it as good. However, visitors' comments indicate that there is potential to improve. Some would like to see more healthy meal options, freshly cooked and locally-sourced food. This was echoed by the Minister who hopes to see services reflect the particularity of their location.

For professional visitors, such as HGV drivers, the break at the services is a legal requirement. And it plays a major role in the quality of their working life. They were the least satisfied group of visitors in the survey at 84 per cent. Parking – both amount and value for money – is particularly important to these visitors. They were a little less happy with the range of food than other visitors; maybe to be expected if they are eating several meals a week in services. Consideration must be given to how HGV drivers can be offered the facilities they need.

The impression of the building inside and outside are key factors in creating a satisfactory experience overall and these tended to score lower than other factors. Customers said they wanted to see improvements to both maintenance and modernisation. There is a significant challenge to the industry in keeping older buildings – some of the services were designed and built in the 1960s – looking fresh, attractive and appealing to customers. Maintenance and cleaning is crucial – one poor experience seeing litter or dirty toilets seems to stick in the mind.

So where next for this industry? It is clearly doing a good job of delivering what customers want but they must strive to achieve even higher levels of satisfaction in future. We hope that the operators will work with us to repeat this survey. This will allow us to really build a picture of customer experience over time and track the improvements the industry makes. We are also starting to look at how road users' feel about the facilities provided on A-Roads on the Strategic Road Network. Is the information adequate? Could signage be improved? Do services offer what drivers and passengers need?