The bottom line: Freight firms bemoan SRN surface quality

Chris Ames

Only half of logistics and coach operators are satisfied with the strategic road network, according to the road users’ watchdog.

Transport Focus said its latest user research into the network managed by Highways England shows that lorry operators are especially unhappy about road surface quality, the management of disruption and the facilities at service areas.

Chief executive Anthony Smith said: ‘This new research confirms that for delivery companies – who move 91% of the nation’s freight – and for coach operators and their passengers, it’s critical the road network is well-managed in terms of their needs.

‘The costs imposed by poor road surfaces on freight is the issue of most common concern to fleet operators – almost one third of coach and logistics managers surveyed volunteered comments on this problem affecting their bottom line.

‘This is closely followed by poor incident management: Information about delays and disruption provided in real time to road users by Highways England must be improved, particularly where accidents close roads or road works extend journey times, especially at night when so much freight is on the move.’

Mr Smith said that logistics managers also want Highways England to keep the time-critical nature of their operations ‘much more front of mind’ when managing incidents as their drivers must keep to regulations that tightly govern their hours behind the wheel.

Transport Focus reiterated its call for Highways England to consider establishing a ‘modest’ operational unit focused solely on meeting the needs the coach, freight and logistics sectors, led by specialists with a thorough knowledge of the sector and its needs. It said it will use the research findings to press Highways England to place more emphasis on the needs of ‘these crucial road user sectors’.

A Highways England spokesperson said: 'We know how vital the motorways and major A roads in England are to the logistics and coach sector and to the country. While we are exceeding our targets for road maintenance, for keeping as many lanes open to traffic as possible and for clearing incidents within an hour – things which are important to all road users – we are not complacent.

'We continue to work closely with our coach and logistics partners to better understand their needs, so that we can further develop our plans and activities, and we value the insight from the Transport Focus report which will help support this ongoing work.'

Key findings

  • One quarter (26%) of managers were dissatisfied, and only half (52%) were satisfied, with how Highways England’s roads serve their business.
  • Many businesses don’t feel their needs are considered sufficiently well by Highways England, especially in relation to how and when roadworks take place.
  • Managers of coach and logistics operators think poor road surfaces are costing them money by pushing up their operating costs.
  • They also believe their obligations to keep to regulations that govern drivers’ hours and the time-critical nature of their operations are not sufficiently front of mind for Highways England when managing incidents that disrupt traffic.
  • Two fifths of participating organisations say their business is threatened by disruption on the road network because they can rarely extend contingency time. Two-thirds need to arrive within one hour of the time specified in their contractual agreements.
  • Freight and coach businesses want more parking spaces and better vehicle security at roadside services, and for these facilities to offer better value for money.
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