Improving information during disruption for road users
29 November 2022
Drivers on the M25 recently experienced disruption to their journeys due to Just Stop Oil protestors getting onto parts of the motorway. As part of representing the interests of those who use the M25, Transport Focus monitored what was happening and fed back to National Highways where things could have been better – particularly around helpful information provided to road users.
Acknowledging that this was a difficult, unpredictable situation to manage, we felt that more could be done to improve the quality of information that road users received. Over the four days of protests affecting the M25, we monitored National Highways South East, East and M25 Twitter feeds. While National Highways uses many different channels to communicate with road users, including traditional media, websites and electronic road signs, Twitter offers a unique opportunity for users to receive direct information and to interact with the organisation. We found that many road users took issue with the protestors’ actions disrupting journeys, and many were critical that more hadn’t been done to prevent these problems happening over several days.
Whether preventable or not, many comments from users centred on a lack information telling them of what was happening and where on the motorway. Even the explanation matters: why say ‘police incident’ rather than ‘protestors blocking road’? From our previous research, we know that people want place names as well as junction numbers to identify where the issues are and if it will affect them. Many people struggle to identify locations from junction numbers alone, so clearer, more targeted information is needed. The information given out also needs to match people’s experiences to ensure trust in what is being said. We found several examples where the road user experience didn’t match what was being said on Twitter. Better communication, including the use of photos and video would help to improve the quality of what is being posted.
A key ‘ask’ from road users facing disruption is an answer to the question: ‘OK, so what do I do?’ Knowing that the road is closed and a warning to expect delays is one thing, but road users really need help to avoid the problem in the first place, where that’s possible. Some will be able to defer their journey, take a different route or catch a train. And if they’re already caught up in a queue, people need as much information as possible about what’s going on and how long they are likely to be stuck. This matters so appointments can be rearranged and alternative plans made.
Whatever the cause of a road being closed, having high quality, helpful and consistent information relayed by multiple channels – social media, websites, radio, television and sat nav – is key. It’s vital that, at the same time as striving to reopen the road as quickly as possible, National Highways also strives to minimise the impact on road users. Transport Focus will work with them to help improve information to road users in the event this type of delay happens again.