Transport Focus: the strategic roads watchdog has arrived

Infrastructure Intelligence speaks to Anthony Smith, chief executive of the new transport watchdog about championing the views of drivers.

Anthony Smith, chief executive, Passenger Focus

Transport Focus has started its work as the new watchdog for the strategic road network (SRN) in England. 

The organisation that previously represented the interests of rail passengers as Passenger Focus has been expanded and is now set to do the same for road users as the monitor of performance at Highways England (HE).

“We will be replicating for road users much of the successful research work we have done in the rail and bus sectors over the last decade,” explained Transport Focus chief executive Anthony Smith.

“But in roads we really do have a blank sheet of paper,” he added, highlighting that while the focus of his work would be on the strategic road network rather than local roads, drivers most often were not aware of which network they travelled on.

“Using technology to track journeys and target our questions will be key,” he explained. “We will be seeking to influence Highways England’s decisions but also those of the supply chain working to maintain roads.”

Both the HE and Transport Focus came into being in April following ascension of the Infrastructure Act. Reforms to the Highways Agency through the Act have resulted in the HE as a new Government owned company responsible for the SRN, but at arm’s length from the Department for Transport.

Currently the new GoCo has £15.2bn to spend over the next five years as outlined in the Government’s roads investment strategy, underpinned by the Infrastructure Act.

Transport Focus has the remit of monitoring how the money is spent on behalf of users of the motorways and trunk roads of the SRN. The organisation has launched a new look website and released the first edition of a monthly Road User Voice newsletter.

It has also published results from initial research into the needs and knowledge of the motorists it now represents – building a picture of driver psychology and attitudes towards the SRN and those that look after it.

A further key piece of work will be to develop a new satisfaction survey to replace the one previously carried out by the Highways Agency. The HE has been set a target of achieving 90% satisfaction from SRN users.

“User satisfaction surveys will allow us to benchmark how different parts of the SRN perform,” explained Smith. “This is a powerful tool for driving change as we have found in public transport. We think this is the first time work like this has been done by an organisation representing road users.”

Transport Focus is planning to research the priorities for improvement to the SRN next, to help identify where unallocated funds of the roads investment strategy should be spent for best affect. The organisation has also announced plans to look at other issues, including reaction to adverse weather and accidents, how roadworks are carried out and how information is provided for road users 

The new watchdog also hopes to work with the HE on design and communication of major improvement schemes, looking at how users can get more involved and informed of the options and benefits.

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