Tuesday, 12 February 2019
Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Driver Test Waiting Lists
55. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to the considerable waiting periods for driver tests nationally and the debilitating impact this can have on persons living in rural areas. [7062/19]
The Minister is undoubtedly aware of the considerable waiting times for driver tests. That is having a huge impact, particularly on the younger generation living in rural Ireland. They need a car to go to school, college or work. They have no alternative because, as was outlined in an earlier question, there is no public transport. When will this matter be addressed? When will the waiting times be brought down to an acceptable level?
I am very aware of the current wait times for driving tests across the country. I accept that these waiting times remain high but I am assured that measures being put in place by the Road Safety Authority, RSA, are working towards reducing waiting times for the public.
The authority's target for a national average waiting time for a driving test is no longer than ten weeks. The current average wait time, as at 4 February last, is 12 weeks. While the wait times at some centres such as Carrick-on-Shannon, Dún Laoghaire, ,Deansgrange, Mulhuddart and Wexford are less than six weeks, there are some centres where the wait time is considerably longer. The longest average wait time at a centre, which is Newcastle West, is just over 20 weeks. It should be noted that an applicant can apply to sit the driving test at any test centre around the country.
In 2018, following my approval, the RSA recruited 52 driver testers, and there are currently a further 14 testers undergoing training. In addition, it is planned to recruit an additional eight driver testers in March. Including the 14 driver testers currently being trained, there are now 147.94 full-time equivalent driver testers available for deployment and this provides an annual capacity of 260,000 driving tests.
Despite an increase in applications for driving tests, which may reflect legislative changes relating to enforcing the existing law on unaccompanied learner drivers - the Clancy amendment - as well as ongoing economic and demographic growth, there is a gradual reduction in waiting times at almost all test centres. With the additional resources available as well as those coming on stream, waiting times will continue to reduce at all test centres.
The RSA provides a facility where driving test cancellations are made available to applicants who may need an urgent appointment. An applicant should contact the RSA directly and request that he or she be placed on the cancellation list. To be fair to all applicants, cancellation places will be assigned in order of the date of placement on the list. If an applicant requires a driving test urgently for employment or emigration purposes, the RSA will make every effort to accommodate that applicant.
At the time of the changes with the Clancy amendment, the Minister gave a commitment that this issue would be tackled. In fact, Deputy Fitzmaurice put forward an amendment that would have imposed a legal requirement for a maximum waiting time which, unfortunately, was defeated. The RSA has committed to waiting times of no more than ten weeks. That is laughable and far from the reality in most test centres. Driving is a lifeline for many young people in rural areas to enable them to get to college, go to work or go wherever. Frankly, the fact that the Minister has ignored the calls since the issue was raised two years ago - the issue has not been addressed since the Clancy amendment was debated here - shows that he and the Government are out of touch with the needs of the younger generation in rural Ireland.
The Minister said 52 people were recruited last year, but in June 2018 he said that 67 would be recruited. Only 52 of the 67 have been recruited. How many testers retired last year? Regarding the 14 being brought forward this year, how many people are due to retire in 2019?
I do not know how many are due to retire this year. I will give the Deputy some figures that are quite optimistic, although they might not please him much because of that. In his area the average waiting time in Athlone is 8.7 weeks and the longest waiting time is nine weeks. In Longford, the average waiting time is 10.9 weeks, which is again below the national average, and in Mullingar it is 12 weeks. The Deputy is quite right that it is unsatisfactory. The target is ten weeks but it is now 12 weeks, which is above that. However, the idea that we have not addressed it is absurd and ignores what I said in my reply. Last year, the RSA recruited 52 driver testers and a further 14 are undergoing training. It will recruit an additional eight driver testers in March. Including the 14 driver testers currently being trained there are now 151 driver testers available for deployment and this provides an annual capacity of 260,000 driving tests. We are addressing this issue, and we are addressing it in the light of the Clancy amendment as well. We are well aware of it and aggressive action has been taken by the RSA, with my approval.
Unlike the Minister, I do not concentrate my efforts on my constituency. This is a problem across Ireland. The Minister has selectively identified my local areas but I take my responsibility as transport spokesperson as a responsibility for all of Ireland. I am aware that the Minister concentrates on his own constituency. In Churchtown in his constituency, the longest waiting time last year was 26 weeks. I acknowledge that it has gone down to 15.1 weeks. The average waiting time in Cork is 17.9 weeks, with a longest waiting time of 24 weeks. In Mallow, the average waiting time is 19.2 weeks while in Skibbereen it is 20.2 weeks. There is a problem, regardless of whether the Minister cares to acknowledge it.
I am surprised that the Minister does not know how many additional staff the RSA has recruited. It has recruited 52 but the Minister is unable to say how many additional staff that represents vis-à-vispeople who retired and positions that have not been filled in previous years. The simple fact is that despite the 52 who were recruited last year the problem with waiting times persists. The Minister should introduce a mandatory maximum waiting time of the ten weeks the RSA has indicated.
We are not far off it. The RSA has targeted ten weeks and it has hit 12 weeks, so it is not far off. To make it mandatory would be extremely difficult. I would love to see it below double digit figures and I hope that will happen. After the Clancy amendment, we anticipated that there would be a sharp rise and measures have been introduced in anticipation of that.
More driver testers will be employed and trained, which is essential and will take some time, and people who need a driving licence quickly will be facilitated. The RSA has introduced emergency slots to accommodate people with such requirements.