Transport Focus: 'The road users' voice is finally arriving'

 

Transport Focus - the independent consumer watchdog in UK transport - had its remit extended to the strategic road network (SRN) following the birth of Highways England. Having represented SRN users for around three years now, its evidence base is emerging as potentially world class, something chief executive Anthony Smith is rightly proud of.

It is now embedding itself at the very heart of the sector, in the criteria by which Highways England is measured by, and potentially in the bidding process by which contractors win work.

”Local

Mr Smith is clear it is 'unashamedly a consumer organisation' and while it's evidence is taken from surveys it goes some way beyond the mere anecdotal. For its recently launched strategic road user survey, it took data from about 8,000 road users soon after their last experience on the SRN England.

Mr Smith explains: 'It is absolutely crucial we try to catch people after their experience so their memories don’t fade, they don’t put together all sorts of general experiences.'

With this level and quality of data, Transport Focus aims 'to establish a whole new benchmark for road user voice in this country' Mr Smith says, highlighting that it can start to benchmark England’s areas against each other: 'We can start to see where there are differences and start intelligent debate about why those differences exist and what could be done about changing some of them.'

It seems possible England is the first country to do this - Mr Smith has found no evidence it is being done elsewhere: 'I think in this country we are being a real leader of this. It is a fascinating view about what people think about the network.'

While the momentary public mood can be a somewhat unreliable barometer of almost anything, even of the public mood so to speak - as many a political polling result can demonstrate - data sets of this size and quality, from independent sources and built upon can provide the underlying foundation for a true understanding of what people need and want.

As a result, Transport Focus is fast becoming a central pillar in the sector.

'As the survey gets bigger and more and more information gets put into it, it will get more powerful. It will get more useful and very importantly it will become one of the metrics in the next road user strategy, which Jim [O'Sullivan] and his colleagues are measured on. So Highways England will be quite interested in it I think.' It is also looks likely to be part of the bidding process. As Highways England moves to the Regional Delivery Partnerships - where work moves from single bids to frameworks and, as Jim O'Sullivan tells Highways, future work will be decided on past performance - the ability to demonstrate an understanding of the user needs and a reliable evidence you are meeting them could become crucial.

It is a more flexible contractual landscape and company's may well have to demonstrate more flexibility - towards Highways England's pressures, political wills, and public concerns.

Mr Smith says: 'I think [evolving how companies listen to users in the bidding process] is very much part of what Highways England should be doing. I know there is some debate that has started about that it’s in the rail franchise process where our work is embedded right at the core of the contractual arrangements and I hope in future that will happen.'

It is not just drivers and passengers, including cyclists, pedestrians and equestrians, Transport Focus stands up for. It is businesses that operate on the SRN too.

'We have spoken to 1,000 coach and logistics managers about their experience of trying to run businesses across the SRN. This piece of work is very, very important. These people are keeping the country running. Virtually everything this country needs or uses appears on a truck. So it is crucial the haulage industry can rely on the road network. Satisfaction is not bad. There is strong evidence coming back about better information needed about road works and if possible improving the quality of the road surface as well.'

All of Transport Focus' data is on a new hub on its website, making it open source for analysts to use to ask their own questions. Although when it comes to the supply chain the message is 'ask not what the SRN can do for you, but what you can do for the SRN'.

Mr Smith says: 'Highways England needs help. If these targets are going to be met and exceeded the supply chain needs to say this is how we are going to help you. This is how we are going to be more efficient. This is how we are going to do road works better, faster, keep people more informed. We are now speaking much, much more to the supply chain as well. Trying to keep the bids that come into Highways England much more focused on the needs of the user.'

The results so far are not too far from expected but they are concrete results and this is just the start.

'When you boil down all of our research, it quite clear what road users want is a safe network that is reliable. It is interesting how much increased journey times come through in the research. People set the time of the journey in their head and want their journeys to take that amount of time.

”Local
DfT is considering expanding £20m new station fund

'Disruption - exactly the same as in other modes - when there is disruption like road works and accidents people want information, they want to be put back into a position where they can plan their journey and their lives.'

So far so sensible, but coming up there is potential for Transport Focus to rock the boat a bit.

'We have work on tunnels coming up. We are looking at what people want and need from the Lower Thames Crossing and Stonehenge. And something I am very proud of we have done the first piece of work about what disabled users want from the strategic road network both in terms of being a driver and a passenger.

'It’s curious there is a tremendous focus on disability in public transport and very little on road use so we are very pleased that is going to be launched by the secretary of state later this month.'

The breakthrough on giving disabled people a voice is great progress and should, indeed must, spark change if change is called for.

Perhaps the toughest challenge will come if the users come back with tough responses on government flagship schemes like these two huge tunnel schemes, where the economic impact of change will really be felt.

Register now for full access


Register just once to get unrestricted, real-time coverage of the issues and challenges facing UK transport and highways engineers.

Full website content includes the latest news, exclusive commentary from leading industry figures and detailed topical analysis of the highways, transportation, environment and place-shaping sectors. Use the link below to register your details for full, free access.

Already a registered? Login

 
comments powered by Disqus
 
 
highways jobs

Highways Asset & Maintenance Manager

Brighton & Hove City Council
£42,806 - £46,326
Looking to recruit a new Highways Asset and Maintenance Manager Brighton, East Sussex
Recuriter: Brighton & Hove City Council

Senior Development Engineer

Bristol City Council
£27,358 - £33,136
Bristol is an exciting, and culturally thriving Regional Capital City of Bristol
Recuriter: Bristol City Council

Executive Director Place & Economy

Peterborough City & Cambridgeshire County Councils
Competitive salary
The opportunity to combine major services across a city and a county to contribute to the delivery of future growth and Infrastructure Cambridgeshire
Recuriter: Peterborough City & Cambridgeshire County Councils

Head of Culture & Place

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council
up to £78,800 plus PRP
This could not be a more important time to join Kensington and Chelsea Kensington and Chelsea, London (Greater)
Recuriter: The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council

Director for Cleaner, Greener & Cultural Services

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council
up to £103,500 plus PRP
This could not be a more important time to join Kensington and Chelsea Kensington and Chelsea, London (Greater)
Recuriter: The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council

Director for Public Protection

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council
up to £103,500 plus PRP
This could not be a more important time to join Kensington and Chelsea Kensington and Chelsea, London (Greater)
Recuriter: The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council

Chief Executive

Luton Borough Council
Luton Borough Council
Recuriter: Luton Borough Council

Head of Democratic Services

Ealing London Borough Council
£58,650.00 - £61,737.00
Ealing is an exciting place to live and work, and local democracy is at the heart of its success. Ealing, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Ealing London Borough Council

Director of Development and Environment

North Somerset Council
circa £125,000 p.a.
We are looking for an experienced and enthusiastic individual to maintain momentum on delivery of our regeneration and placemaking aspirations Somerset
Recuriter: North Somerset Council

Development Officer/Senior Development Officer

Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council
£28,221 - £35,229 / £33,136 - £41,846
Seeking an individual to lead on all aspects of Highways advice to a busy Development Management team Solihull, West Midlands
Recuriter: Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council

Highways Asset & Maintenance Manager

Brighton & Hove City Council
£42,806 - £46,326
Looking to recruit a new Highways Asset and Maintenance Manager Brighton, East Sussex
Recuriter: Brighton & Hove City Council

Commercial Manager

Leicester City Council
£41,846 - £44,697
Seeking for a Comercial Manager to work for the Leicester City Council. Leicester, Leicestershire
Recuriter: Leicester City Council

Senior Highways Development Engineer

Leeds City Council
£37,107 - £39,961
Seeking to appoint an experienced highways engineer or transport planner. Leeds, West Yorkshire
Recuriter: Leeds City Council

Trainee Deputy Editor of Bridge Design & Engineering

Bridge Design & Engineering
£24,000-26,000
Bd&e is looking for a structural or civil engineering graduate with a passion for bridges. Dorset
Recuriter: Bridge Design & Engineering

Strategic Transport Project Development Officer

Hull City Council
£36.153 - £39.002
Would you like to work in the successful UK City of Culture? Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire
Recuriter: Hull City Council

Project Lead

Hull City Council
£45.181 - £48.563
Would you like to work in the successful UK City of Culture? Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire
Recuriter: Hull City Council

Highway Development Control Officer

Hull City Council
£31.401 - £34.106
Would you like to work in the successful UK City of Culture? Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire
Recuriter: Hull City Council

Highway / Traffic Development / Design Technician - Three posts

Hull City Council
£28221 - £30756
Would you like to work in the successful UK City of Culture? Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire
Recuriter: Hull City Council

Assistant Director - Economy & Regeneration

Babergh & Mid Suffolk
Up to £72k
Quality of work, quality of life, along with a generous relocation package and flexible working patterns. Ipswich, Suffolk
Recuriter: Babergh & Mid Suffolk

Assistant Director - Environment & Commercial Services

Babergh & Mid Suffolk
Up to £72k
Quality of work, quality of life, along with a generous relocation package and flexible working patterns Ipswich, Suffolk
Recuriter: Babergh & Mid Suffolk

Chief Executive

Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council
c£160,000
Barnsley is a Council with ambition, flair and imagination Barnsley, South Yorkshire
Recuriter: Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council