"NUMPTIES", "brain-dead", "jobsworths" and "survey monkeys". And these are just the printable insults hurled at the people who organised the Spur Road traffic census, which caused giant jams north of Bournemouth on Thursday.

Twenty-four hours after the clipboards were packed away, Bournemouth motorists were still fuming about what one described as "the farce of the century".

All day yesterday our forums at bournemouthecho.co.uk were bombarded with comments about the information-gathering exercise, which caused six-mile tailbacks and massive inconvenience to thousands of motorists.

They complained of being late for work, losing work, taking two-and-a-half hours to go from Poole to south Winchester and one driver said he'd missed a family funeral. There were also reports at one point of an ambulance struggling to get through the stationary queue and claims that police ordered the census to stop for 45 minutes to allow queues to abate.

Drivers were also livid about the personal nature of some of the questions. Many said they had either refused to take part or would give inaccurate data and the majority commenting online questioned the validity of the whole exercise.

But how much angrier would they have been if they had known that the people running the survey believed it would only result in half-hour delays? And that their details could be used to help determine whether congestion charging becomes part of the motoring landscape in this area?

Rick Clayton of the South East Dorset Transport Study was asked if the gathered data - which included details of people's incomes - could be helpful if the authorities wanted to bring in congestion charging.

"It's that kind of thing," he said. "Road or congestion charging is one of a number of ideas begin considered across the country and this is something we need to consider in the long-term development of our transport strategy.

"That doesn't mean it's going to happen or it's particularly on the agenda but it's one of the ideas we have to consider. Maybe we consider it and because we have decent information we reject it or we defer it for another 10 years.

"But obviously without the information, you can't make a decision and that's the basis of data collection exercises."

But how accurate can this information be if, as many drivers have threatened, they either refuse to take part of give blatantly false information on the survey card?

"When we get the data we have to look at it and sense check it, to make sure it's not nonsense," he says. "If they give silly addresses or nonsense or whatever, that information is disregarded. That reduces our sample rate and reduces the value of the data we collect, which could give us problems."

He believes the data from this survey will contain higher than usual spoiled returns.

"That's people's right; it's a voluntary questionnaire but it doesn't do us or anybody any good in the long term," he warned. "We're not doing this for our own entertainment, we're doing this for a reason and if we get bad information we won't be able to plan as effectively and that's what it's all about, planning for the long term."

However, it appears to be the immediate planning for the short term that most concerned our readers.

They complained of lack of information and alleged that proper safety measures such as Police Slow or Traffic Census signs were not in place as drivers approached the tailback from the Blackwater Junction. Was Mr Clayton actually aware of how inconvenienced people felt?

"I am. I've had many calls and emails and I have seen the Echo's message board and some of the comments there and I can understand the anger and the frustration."

Police who were accompanying the census asked for it to be stopped for just under an hour after the Cooper Dene area was threatened with gridlock.

Mr Clayton admitted the Dorset Police control room "were getting a lot of complaints". He also revealed that he was aware there would be queues back to the Blackwater Junction and had moved the survey site further north but only believed delays would be about half an hour.

"I know its frustrating but all I can say is we are doing this for the bigger picture and if we don't do this, very gradually the whole place will come to a grinding halt and no one will be going anywhere anyway."

  • Traffic surveys will continue in this area. If you have important appointments, flights or meetings and would like to know more, Mr Clayton's team can be contacted on 01202 265260
  • A spokesman for Dorset Police stressed the cost of hiring two officers for 12 hours each was borne by the local highway authority.

"Police officers have the power to direct traffic and drivers must obey police directions. This applies in all instances," he said.