The Alberta government is taking back carrying out driver licence road tests from the private sector — 25 years after the province moved to the privatized model.
Changes to the way road tests are carried out in Alberta was something Transportation Minister Brian Mason promised to do after the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.
Mason said Tuesday it’s the best solution to fix testing plagued by reports of poor service, high fees and lack of access in smaller centres.
“It’s a Wild West kind of system that has not served Albertans well,” he said.
He said his government receives scores of complaints ranging from underhanded dealing to criminal behaviour.
“We get, like, seven complaints a day on average … people being failed so that they have to pay a fee to retest,” said Mason. “There’s some question about some people being passed maybe that shouldn’t be.
“There are instances of harassment and even assault. It’s pretty clear that we have a system that is broken and we need to fix that.”
Mason said driver examiners will be government employees and the changes will be in place by March 1, 2019.
Watch below: Big changes are coming to driver testing in Alberta. As Tom Vernon reports, starting on March 1, all road tests will be conducted by government employees.
There will be a flat fee of $83 for a standard Class 5 licence. The fee for a Class 1 commercial truck driver will be $219, and Mason said further changes to Class 1 and Class 2 licences will be announced later.
Service Alberta Minister Brian Malkinson said the way Albertans access road tests won’t change significantly, as people will still go through a registry to book their test.
“We are taking steps to ensure Alberta’s driver examination model is safe, transparent and secure,” Malkinson said. “We committed to consulting and working with registry agents, and we did just that.”
LISTEN: Brian Mason joins Danielle Smith to explain why driver testing is going public
Road tests are currently done by 153 private testers across the province. Mason hopes to hire most of those existing testers as government employees.
“I think the majority of them are professionals that do a really good job, and if they’re interested, we’re interested in hiring them,” Mason said.
The tests will still be administered through private registry agencies, as is done now, but will be done by government testers.
The examiners will get training and be subject to reviews, he said. There will be a call centre for complaints, but revenues are expected to offset added costs.
The province said the benefits to Albertans include:
- Standardized fees to ensure everyone pays the same price for the same service.
- Enhanced oversight to ensure road test services are conducted fairly, consistently and professionally.
- A call centre to receive complaints and co-ordinate responses effectively.
- Mobile driver examiners using tablet and GPS technology to enhance accessibility across the province, especially in rural areas.
- Online and in-person scheduling.
- Benefits and professional development opportunities for driver examiners.
When Alberta moved to a privatized model in 1993, the rationale was based on increased access for Albertans and low cost to provide examinations. Instead, the government said concerns emerged surrounding oversight and high fees, compared with the rest of Canada.
Mason said performing driving tests is a basic government function and shouldn’t have been privatized by Ralph Klein’s PC government.
“This is an example of one of the privatizations that took place that hasn’t worked at all,” Mason said.
“Basically, it’s completely unregulated.”
The province plans to hire 161 examiners and ensure that they are available so that tests can be done quickly no matter where a person lives.
LISTEN BELOW: Brian Mason, Alberta Transportation Minister and Pete Llewellyn, Executive Director, certified driver examiner’s association speak with 630 CHED’s Ryan Jespersen
As it stands, Mason said it’s difficult for new drivers in remote rural areas to get road tests because of cost efficiencies — examiners can spend a day doing five tests in Edmonton or spend a day driving to a remote location to do one.
“It becomes very difficult to provide good service under this (current) model outside major centres.”
WATCH: Service Alberta Minister Brian Malkinson explains how the province taking back carrying out road tests will benefit drivers, including lowering costs and increasing access in rural areas.
Alberta is believed to be the only jurisdiction in North America that delivers road tests through the free market. They are arranged through privately operated registry agencies.
An independent consultant’s report said the approach is failing to deliver projected cost savings to consumers and is open to collusion and abuse due to lack of co-ordinated oversight and independent data such as in-vehicle video.
In July, Malkinson said an in-house study by his department from 2014 to 2017 found there were more than 40 investigations of improper behaviour on the tests. It ranged from improperly scored exams and poor customer service to a sexual harassment complaint.
There were also complaints that would-be drivers are purposely flunked to make them retake their tests as a cash grab.
Malkinson’s department estimated the average price for a basic Class 5 driver’s licence is $90 a test — double or triple the cost for similar tests in other provinces.
Prices rise sharply after that for more specialized licences and top out at $219 on average for a Class 1 licence for commercial truck drivers. That’s three to four times higher than in other provinces.
A motorcycle road test that costs $22 in Saskatchewan and $20 in Prince Edward Island costs an average of $145 in Alberta.
WATCH: Alberta is ditching its privatized model for road testing and will administer road exams directly to new drivers. Kendra Slugoski explains from the Alberta Legislature.
Wayne Drysdale, transportation critic for the Opposition United Conservatives, said the New Democrats have botched the issue by moving testing back in-house, especially given that the government is running deficits in the billions of dollars.
“It appears that the NDP is intent on ‘fixing’ something that isn’t broken,” Drysdale said in a release. “If a few bad actors exist, then the government should of course address that. But today’s change is drastic overreach.
“The NDP is once again intent on growing the size of government, despite the current fiscal crisis our province faces in part because of increases in government spending.”
— With files from Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press