Alberta’s transportation minister announced Thursday that the province is going back to a privatized road test system for Class 4, 5 and 6 licences.
The change will take effect January 2021. It encompasses licence road tests for passenger vehicles (graduated and advanced), taxis and ambulances.
Exams for commercial licences will continue to be done by government examiners. This will “ensure a continued smooth transition to the high standards set through the new Mandatory Entry-Level Training program,” the government said.
Starting Dec. 1, Albertans will be able to book passenger vehicle road tests directly with local registry agents or through a new online system. Road tests will begin Jan. 5, 2021.
“We know Albertans have been frustrated with long delays to get a road test,” Minister Ric McIver said.
“Returning to a privately run model will restore a system which Albertans used for years with confidence. I want to thank driver examiners and registry agents for their continued dedication as we transition to a new and better system.”
The former NDP government changed Alberta’s driver test booking system from private to one that was under government control. Before that, certified examiners operated as private contractors. Drivers booked tests with a registry, which called in an examiner.
After the switch, some Albertans reported waiting more than six weeks to book a driving exam. Others said they were forced to drive to different parts of the province to do the test.
The NDP made the change after hearing many complaints about services that were delivered privately. It described it as a “wild west” system that needed reform and said the province received about seven complaints per day about examiners.
McIver said Thursday the province is increasing government oversight to prevent issues that plagued the old driver exam system, including fraud and under-trained examiners.
There will also be “electronic monitoring of each road test in order to ensure safety,” the province said in a news release.
McIver said that when the NDP made the switch in March 2019, Alberta was left with just 77 driver examiners, when the system needs about 150.
Road tests were suspended on March 19 due to the pandemic. They resumed, for all licence classes, on June 30.
As of Oct. 22, there were 188 (132 government and 56 contract) examiners available to conduct tests, the province said.
The NDP Opposition said the UCP is misleading Albertans.
“Albertans deserve timely access to competent driver testing at a reasonable price,” NDP transportation critic Rod Loyola said in a statement.
“Our NDP government inherited a Conservative driver testing system that was broken. It cost Albertans too much and offered no protections against examiners behaving inappropriately or repeatedly failing new drivers in order to bill them for several tests.
“We drove down costs and improved service levels, particularly in rural Alberta.
“In 2019, the new UCP minister of transportation misled Albertans and said the number of examiners was down across the province when the truth is full-time equivalent capacity was up.
“The UCP government failed to plan appropriately when they shut down testing due to COVID-19, and now their backlog is out of control,” Loyola said.
The minister said he hopes the switch back to a private model won’t cost anyone their job as driver examiners can seek employment with registries or an AMA outlet.
“It should… I hope… it provides no loss of employment,” McIver said.
Registry agents will be able to hire or contract driver examiners directly.
“Getting a driver’s licence is a significant milestone, critical to the lives and livelihoods of Albertans, and this shouldn’t be challenged by limited road test availability,” said Michelle Chimko, chief operating officer, Alberta Motor Association.