The 39 Steps

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Extra’s Peterborough Service Area has coach parking that enables passengers to have direct access to facilities. GARETH EVANS

Our insider argues that coach parking at some services needs to be better laid out so that passengers are closer to facilities and can access them more safely

The 39 Steps was a 1915 adventure novel written by John Buchan and adapted 20 years later by Alfred Hitchcock into a film. As a melodrama, an actress plays the three women with whom the hero has romantic entanglements and two other actors play every other character in the show: heroes, villains, men, women, children and even the occasional inanimate object, but I digress.

In a 12m coach it takes 27 steps to walk up to the rear of the saloon including the entry steps – go and count them. That means that if as a passenger you’re sat on one of the rear seats, every time you stop at the services for a comfort break you’re close to 50 steps further away (having got on the first place, and then disembarked) than someone sitting at the front. In the main passengers won’t say a word about the footfall involved despite it being a journey they could make at least three times on a long trip. [wlm_nonmember][…]

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[/wlm_nonmember] [wlm_ismember] Recently I started receiving phone calls of complaint from customers about where the coach they were travelling on had to park when it visited the motorway services at Oxford. It was some distance from the facilities and as far as some were concerned, it was too far for them to walk and a total inconvenience. The fact that they would almost certainly walk more than 39 steps, metaphorically speaking, whilst within the confines of the building was considered immaterial.

Moto, for example, on the coach section of its website says to coach drivers: “You’re one of our best customers. We appreciate that, and want to thank you for your business.” However, when it comes to services generally, that enthusiasm to accommodate isn’t always reflected in where a coach has to park or the level of service passengers will receive.

The Motorway Services User Survey 2017 was a comprehensive document about users of motorway services although the research only seems to have involved HGV and car drivers. There’s no mention of coach traffic whatsoever, but there was a degree of concern expressed for the accessibility afforded to wheelchair-bound users. Apparently visitors with a disability were almost as satisfied with their experience at 88% as able-bodied users.

In DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) terms there is still often insufficient infrastructure at motorway services for wheelchair users who are onboard a coach. It’s a situation that dates back well before National Express coaches were made accessible, with drivers of lift-equipped vehicles finding it hard to identify level locations where they could deploy the equipment.

According to the survey, four fifths of those with a disability said the MSA (Motorway Service Area) catered well for their disability, but nearly one in 10 thought the MSA catered poorly for them.

On arrival visitors were asked to rate the various aspects they saw or used at an MSA. Approach signs, the slip road, car park layout, feeling of safety leaving the vehicle and the walk to the building were rated highly; all within a few percentage points of 90%. However, professional visitors gave lower ratings for aspects related to parking than other visitors (covering the comments about coach parking). HGV drivers were more likely than other visitors to suggest bigger and cheaper parking facilities, and improvements to showers.

As usual the coach and its highly contributory passenger base is forgotten because it seems to suit the world just to ’take the money’ that passengers generate and give very little back. The situation at Oxford services is not by any means the only example of this. Sites should be managed in such away that 40 odd people should not, for health and safety reasons, be allowed to wander amongst moving lorries and cross access roads. The coach they’re travelling on should be parked as near to facilities as possible.

The layout of some sites remains archaic and you may as well ask disembarking passengers if they will fuel up an articulated lorry whilst they’re on their way to take their place in the queue for food or the toilets. The travelling public finds such environments entirely hostile and out of their comfort zone. Whilst the situation at Oxford services may not be ideal, it’s not the worst. It is probably only 39 steps, or so on someone’s Fitbit tracker.