By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Janine Blair wants to know why road testing for an Ontario driver’s licence isn’t considered an essential service.
The Port Lambton woman’s frustration level is off the charts in regard to her 17-year-old son’s pending G2 road test.
Because of provincial lockdowns, Ian’s Blair’s test has been cancelled twice, and because Drive Test doesn’t prioritize cancelled appointments, the Grade 12 student has been shunted to the back of the line each time.
“I don’t understand why they can’t do the test,” Janine said. “It’s an essential service. You can’t work or go to school without a licence.”
Ian said the delay is having a negative impact on his life.
“It’s not fair to me or others who missed their licences during (the) lockdown,” Ian explained. “We have no control over this and should get the first appointments as soon as it opens back up.”
Ian said he wants to work and save up money for college.
“I don’t want to depend on others giving me a ride.”
So parents and friends must continue to ferry him back and forth to his part-time job at a Wallaceburg grocery store.
Ian isn’t alone. According to the Ministry of Transportation, his test is among the 292,400 Ontario road tests currently backlogged.
The number is more than the population of Chatham-Kent and Sarnia-Lambton combined.
By the time Ian gets behind the wheel this October to take his test, he will have waited 11 months all told.
Janine also called the system unfair. She wonders why Drive Test doesn’t prioritize cancelled road tests to allow prospective drivers access to a next-in-line test.
Instead, aspiring drivers have to start over in the online system.
Ian’s test was scheduled for April 27, but was cancelled because of the lockdown.
A check of Drive Test’s online booking systems shows there are no available road test slots at the Chatham-Kent Drive Test for the remainder of the year.
However, a recent e-mail received from the Ministry of Transportation said people need to keep checking the website as more tests become available.
Ontario road tests are managed by Drive Test — a private company that’s part of the SERCO corporation. The giant multinational company, whose clients include the U.S. military, has been managing the province’s road tests since 2003.
SERCO was awarded a 10-year contract, followed by a second 10-year deal in 2013.
Each prospective driver pays a fee of $120, which Drive Test keeps until the final road test. The amount relating to back logged tests equates to about $35-million.
According to the MTO e-mail, Drive Test has hired 35 new driver examiners — out of a proposed 84 — to help clear the backlog.
The new driver examiners are currently in training.
On the SERCO website, the company has dozens of help wanted ads for Drive Test examiners.
When contacted about the lengthy wait times for road tests in Chatham-Kent, two of the municipality’s top officials say the lag has a negative effect on a local economy that depends on transportation.
Chatham-Kent’s Economic Development Director says the province needs to take another look at the issue.
“If this isn’t an eye-opener for government, I don’t know what is,” Stuart McFadden explained. “There are many sectors that are affected. If it’s backlogged that much, it tells me the system needs to be re-evaluated.”
Polly Smith, Chatham-Kent’s director of Employment and Social Services, said having a licence is critical to the local job market.
“Young people need to be able to get to jobs and school,” Smith said. “We know that a lack of available transportation is a problem in Chatham-Kent.”
Smith says young people aren’t the only group affected by the backlog, adding new Canadians also need to take tests.
As far as the Blairs are concerned, the Drive Test system is broken.
“It’s not fair,” Janine said. “We can keep liquor stores open, but can’t provide PPE to keep this very essential service going. We can get marijuana and alcohol, but can’t get a driving test. It doesn’t make sense.”