Whether you view service stations as wellsprings of relaxation and rejuvenation—or an expensive last resort—may depend on which services you’re visiting.

Transport Focus has carried out their Motorway Services User Survey on over 9,000 motorists, to find out how England’s 111 motorway service stations are performing.

The independent transport user watchdog carried out the first large-scale survey, in 2017 and have compared this year’s results with those findings, identifying which service stations listened to their customers, and made improvements.

The best and the worst

Motorway service stations—love them or hate them, most of us use them at least sometimes. Whether you’re on your way back from a weekend away, needing to grab a coffee or you’re a lorry driver using the showers, service stations differ in their range of facilities and level of service.

Across the country, investment by operators appears to have made a genuine difference to the experience drivers have from service stations. Last year, Stafford South scored only 70% on the customer satisfaction rating and ranked second to last. This year, the services ranked second place with a 99% satisfaction rating—a vast improvement. In 2017, Wetherby also shot from 93rd place, last year, to third place, in 2017.

The survey showed an overall 92% of motorists felt satisfied with their visit to motorway service area, with 94% rating customer service as ‘good’, and 89% of people who say they are happy with the toilet cleanliness.

Sixty-six per cent of people also thought the service station food and drink establishments gave value for money. Whether this includes items such as bottled water and packed sandwiches isn’t clear, but seems doubtful. We’re all aware of the huge markup on these products.

Those who make a living from driving a vehicle score the lowest on customer satisfaction, at only 88%, yet this driver group experienced the largest increase in satisfaction ratings since surveyed in 2017.

While 90% of visitors with a disability reported high levels of customer satisfaction from using a motorway service station, only 70% said the facilities catered well for their needs—motorway service station operators, take note.

Highest ranked motorway services (Customer satisfaction rating as a percentage.)

  1. Norton Canes (M6 toll) Roadchef – 100%
  2. Stafford Southbound (M6) Roadchef – 99%
  3. Wetherby (A1 (M)) Moto – 99%
  4. Hilton Park Southbound (M6) Moto – 99%
  5. Corley Southbound (M6) Welcome Break – 99%

Lowest ranked motorway services

  1. Thurrock (M25) Moto – 68% (services undergoing refurbishment at the time of the survey.)
  2. Toddington Southbound (M1) Moto – 72%
  3. Southwaite Northbound (M6) Moto – 80%
  4. Newport Pagnell South (M1) Welcome Break – 81%
  5. Bridgwater (M5) Moto – 81%

Drivers leave in a better mood

Motorway services are crucial for road safety, combatting tiredness by allowing road users to rest. Transport Focus wanted to assess the effect that visiting a service station had on the mood of drivers. Twenty-four per cent of motorists stated they were in a frustrated, stressed, or tired state of mind when entering the service station, compared to only 5% in a similar state, on departure—an even lower number than last year.

Anthony Smith, Chief Executive of Transport Focus, said: “As the summer holiday getaway gets into full swing it’s good to see motorway services customers feel they get a good experience.

“Motorway services play an important role in providing the break motorists need. Drivers tell us they feel less stressed and more awake.”

With motorway services known as expensive places—for fuel, in particular—many drivers will push on with their journeys, hoping to make it to an alternative stop for refuelling or a rest.

RAC Foundation Director, Steve Gooding said: “No-one expects motorway service areas to be five-star attractions but they do serve an important safety role for those on long journeys, particularly drivers who need to take a break.

“When a service area gets a reputation for being unattractive, the risk is that people put off the stop they ought to make, and that can have serious consequences if they then run out of fuel or fall asleep.

“What we need is a basic, minimum standard for all our motorway service areas: an easy-to-navigate layout, clean facilities and fairly priced fuel. It’s a simple formula but one that some stop-off places still don’t seem able to get right.”

Avoiding those motorway fuel prices

No matter where the next motorway service station you visit is, one thing’s for sure—the price of petrol and diesel will be much more expensive than other filling stations.

In April, we wrote how Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling wanted an official investigation into why motorway services charge so much more for fuel than standard filling stations.

For years drivers have complained that motorway fuel prices are overpriced and, according to surveys, one in five drivers buy only enough petrol or diesel ‘to get by’, waiting for a cheaper filling station, later.

If you’re looking to avoid paying the high service station fuel prices, then plan for your journeys whenever you can and fill up at a cheaper petrol station beforehand.

If you believe you’ll run out of fuel along the way, consider making a small detour from the motorway and locate cheaper fuel forecourts. One way to make it easier is by downloading the PetrolPrices app or visiting the website.

Are you surprised with the results of the Transport Focus survey? How often do you visit motorway service areas? What has been your experience? Do you enjoy them or avoid them? Let us know in the comments.

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