Economic, Environmental and Social Impacts of Changes in Maintenance Spend on Local Roads in Scotland

11 Customer Satisfaction

No direct evidence of customer feedback for local roads in Scotland has been available, for this study but it is likely that studies have been undertaken. It was recognised in the trunk road study that, for trunk roads, users had serious concerns about deteriorating road condition and in related studies with users for other projects comments have been made for local roads. In a study for the Department for Transport (Ramdas, Thomas, Lehman, & Young, 2007) users in focus groups were very critical of the effects of lack of local road maintenance in England.

Examples of studies into customer satisfaction by Local Authorities were made available for this study but there was no additional information on specific policies adopted by the Authorities that may affect the changes in level of service reported by the surveys (e.g. a higher rate of spend applied to a particular aspect specifically to improve that service). The studies covered the full range of services provided by Local Authorities. Winter maintenance was a topic covered widely by these surveys but individual Authorities also sought customer views on other topics (e.g. general road maintenance, street lighting) relevant to the effects considered in this study. The results from the studies available show the public take a strong view of effects of levels of maintenance of the road network. The results of the surveys are presented differently but the results illustrate the views and level of interest in road maintenance shown by local residents.

The types of studies undertaken by different Authorities are shown by 3 studies on different types of Authority[8]:

11.1 Urban Authority

Two surveys had been undertaken in 2005 and 2008, with each survey categorising the customer views in 5 bands from Excellent to Very Poor. The aspects of road maintenance covered included:

  • Drainage, gullies and ditches
  • Footway maintenance
  • Grass cutting
  • Pot holes and road surface defects
  • Road markings
  • Road signs
  • Standard of road surface

For street lighting the survey covered the speed of street lighting repairs, level of lighting and the extent of lighting.

All sample surveys are subject to random error and require large sample sizes to give narrow error bands at 90% or 95% confidence intervals. For this Authority, the changes in views between 2005 and 2008 in the level of satisfaction (expressed as the middle category or better) were between 11% (for grass cutting) and -7% (for speed of street lighting repairs). However, for the sample sizes used, none of these changes were statistically significant. The level of satisfaction for all aspects was more than 75% in 2008.

11.2 Semi-urban Authority

Two household surveys had been undertaken in 2008 and 2010 and in addition to assessments of the general level of service provided by the Authority, included four service areas relevant to this study:

  • Maintenance of roads and footways
  • Quality of town centre environment
  • Street lighting
  • Street and pedestrian area cleanliness

Of these four service areas, 3 showed a decrease in level of satisfaction between 2008 and 2010 of between 3.7% and 9.1% with street lighting showing an improvement of 5%. No levels of significance were given for these differences.

However, it was not only the change in level of satisfaction that is of interest but also the general level which was below 20% for road maintenance compared with more than 90% for other non-road related services provided by the Authority. This level of service was achieved even though the Authority had initiated a major investment programme in roads.

Of the four aspects of maintenance related to this study, street lighting showed a level of satisfaction of more than 80% but the other three aspects were between 18% and 57%. Cleanliness of streets and pedestrian areas showed the largest fall in level of satisfaction of nearly 10% to less than 50%.

11.3 Rural Authority

This Authority had undertaken surveys of performance annually since 2007. The surveys covered six aspects of maintenance relevant to this study:

  • Cycle-paths
  • Flooding
  • Footway maintenance
  • Road repairs
  • Street cleaning
  • Street lighting

The surveys adopted a 5 category response scale with the results of the surveys shown as the Net Satisfaction Rate (NSR), the difference between the sum of the responses in the top two categories and the sum of the responses in the bottom two categories.

The highest NSR for a service was nearly 90%, for libraries, but road repairs, the poorest performing service, showed -55% in 2011, with little change since 2007. The NSR for cycle-paths had improved significantly in 2011, from little change between 2007 and 2010. The NSR for street cleaning and flooding had shown gradual improvements since 2007 but were still in the bottom half of the rates for the 41 aspects of the Authority's service included in the surveys. Footway maintenance had improved since 2007 but was still 36th in the order with an NSR of less than 10%. Road repairs were clearly the poorest aspect of the Authority's service, yet in related questions on the importance of the aspect, it was seen as the most important of the 41 aspects of service.

11.4 Summary

The three Authority survey reports reviewed for this study showed that the public are very aware of the level of service provided by the road network and its importance to the public well-being. Similar categories of the service were included in the surveys by all 3 Authorities but only one Authority showed any measure of the level of reliability in differences in the results between surveys.

The surveys strongly suggest that reducing the level of maintenance funding will be recognised by the public and further reduce the level of satisfaction, which is already low compared with other aspects of Local Authority services. However, it is also likely that increasing the level of maintenance will not provide immediate improvements in the level of satisfaction. The survey for the Semi-Urban Authority showed a decrease in the level of satisfaction in road maintenance even after a major investment programme in roads, although this may have been influenced by the occurrence of particularly severe winter weather in recent years.

All 3 surveys showed the high public awareness and interest in levels of street lighting but did not identify the basis of those views (i.e. security, accidents etc.). There was also a high interest in levels of footway condition.

These surveys are not sufficient to show the levels of satisfaction in aspects of road maintenance across the road network or to indicate likely changes caused by reductions in levels of maintenance funding. They do however show that the public is well aware of the level of service provided by the road network and, even with current levels of funding, recognises that an improvement in the service is needed. It is clear, therefore, that the possible reductions in maintenance funding will reduce customer satisfaction but it has not been possible to quantify the effect.