Transport Focus (official website) is a watchdog for transport users in the UK, sponsored by the Department for Transport. In 2015, they branched out from just covering public transport to covering roads too, and in 2017 they started their first of what could be a regular investigation into motorway services.
While the full study gives an interesting account as to where service areas need to improve their attention to detail (usually value for money), it is the so-called 'league table' that attracts press attention. This is a flawed measure, because they only interview an average of 100 people per service station, which is far too small a sample when the majority of customers are all saying the same thing.
To explain this, look at how the rankings totally change every year, the scores have a very narrow range, suggesting most customers just aren't that bothered. Most customers base their answer on what food brands are available, meaning small and quiet services get penalised. While we recognise that operators can't do anything about roundabouts, arguably a stressful junction should count against a service area as a satisfying place to stop. Finally there has been no research into how the wider environment could affect perceived satisfaction: do stressful motorways attract stressed customers?
The 2020 survey methodology was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, Transport Focus wisely did not publish a complete list of all scores. Instead they published the average score for each operator, and allowed the media to heap praise on every service area run by that operator, including ones which aren't on motorways.
As always, the results for each operator were broadly proportionate to the number of sites they owned, with Moto getting 93% satisfaction and much-smaller Westmorland getting 97% satisfaction. Much was made of Euro Garages increasing their score from 86% to 96%, but as they only run one whole site, that figure is based on a much smaller sample and is prone to changing a lot.
The 2019 survey was conducted in Spring 2019. In general most scores had fallen slightly, while the bottom few had all improved their act. The end result was that the rankings were shaken up a bit while remaining broadly the same.
In particular, Euro Garages had fallen from the best operator to the worst, leaving Westmorland back in front. It was another good year for Roadchef, and a disappointing one for Moto. It also found that professional drivers were the least satisfied, leisure the most, and prices remained the main bone of contention.
The second survey was conducted in Spring 2018. It worked much like the previous survey (below), with modest improvements across the board.
Moto appeared to have a rough ride, with several poorly-performing sites and a poor total score. Westmorland and Euro Garages came joint top, with Roadchef responsible for the two top service stations.
If you compare each individual site with 2017's score, you'll see a lot of wild fluctuations. This is the risk of using a small dataset, and asking a public who aren't that fussed. Even so, the general trends are still interesting.
The first survey was conducted in Spring 2017, with the results presented at Beaconsfield in October 2017.
Although it analysed various aspects of how people use services, the main product was an individual customer satisfaction rating for every service station in England. The assessment covered road safety, pedestrian safety, wifi, and the quality of the exterior and interior.
Following the results, the Department for Transport pledged to investigate concerns with a shortage of HGV parking spaces.
Perhaps surprisingly for what promised to be a rigorous review, the overall conclusion was that most services were already meeting customer's needs fine. Of the 112 services visited, only two scored less than 75%. Many received more than 90% satisfaction, and 97% of people polled said they would happily visit the same service station again.
Value for money on parking, availability of parking and value for money on food were the three biggest concerns raised.
The full results are included below.