Thursday, 19 January 2023
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
The Deputy will be aware that the RSA has statutory responsibility for the operational aspects of national driver's test, including test applications and scheduling matters. I would first like to address the broader issue of driver testing delays, which is a problem across the State and has been raised by a number of Deputies. The current national average waiting time for an invitation to a test is 19 weeks, which is far above the service level agreement, SLA, of ten weeks. This is reflective of demand on driver testing services which is up by 28% on 2021 figures and is up 27% on 2018 pre-Covid-19 pandemic figures.
I am informed that the current increase in demand for driving tests and the time to an invitation for learner drivers have a number of contributing factors. These include an increase in learner permits in circulation, which has grown by approximately 30% since the third quarter of 2019; increased capacity in the driver theory test when the service resumed post-Covid-19 pandemic; and an increase in advanced driving instructors capacity to deliver lessons to learner drivers, which has increased the number of learners becoming eligible and ready to take their test.
I assure the Deputy that the RSA is making every effort to manage these demand pressures. The authority conducted a review of the current and evolving needs of the driver testing service in 2022, following which the Department of Transport sanctioned an increase in the permanent driver tester headcount from 100 to 130. I am informed that the RSA is currently deploying a number of successful candidates across the driver testing service, with a focus on geographical areas with the longest waiting lists. It is expected that the remainder will be deployed by the first quarter of 2023. However, I acknowledge there is further work to be done to provide the driver testing services that each customer deserves and that the RSA is committed to delivering.
I have been assured by the RSA that it is keeping this situation under constant review and the authority will report back to my Department on the steps being taken to continue to reduce waiting times. If sanction requests for further increases in driver testers are received, we will evaluate them promptly.
This is a real problem, particularly for young people in rural parts of County Clare. A large number of people get in touch with me and I subsequently get in touch with the RSA. Some have been waiting for six months to get a test and it is just not good enough. The target timeframe is ten weeks but the figures show that people are waiting 19 weeks to get an invitation. I can give many examples of where a test date is nearly due and then the appointment is put back by another month or two. It is not good enough.
The Minister of State said that the RSA is making every effort, but what effort is it making because this situation is getting worse? This issue stems back to the fact that last year a cohort of 32 trained driver instructors who were employed on a temporary basis were not made permanent. We have a growing population and we have only 130 testers now.
I accept that the current service that is being delivered does not meet what the public expects. People are waiting 19 or 20 weeks or even more in certain cases and that is not an acceptable public service. If we are being honest, the service level agreement of ten weeks needs to be examined as well. For me as Minister of State, even ten weeks is too long as I am concerned. There is constant engagement with the RSA on this. There has been an increase in the permanent headcount from 100 to 130. I met with my officials on this yesterday.
Building capacity is important from a road safety perspective. The new road safety strategy is called “Vision Zero”. We have to ensure that the driver testing system can be accessed in a timely manner and the ongoing delays are causing frustration for people. Since I entered the role it has been something I want to remedy and bring solutions to. I assure the Deputy that every effort will be made to try to build capacity within the testing system to improve the current position.
I thank the Minister of State and I welcome his interest in trying to bring about a resolution. Every effort must be made. He has to set out a timeline to achieve those target waiting periods of ten weeks. I am encouraged by his comment that even that is not acceptable and that it needs to be reviewed. We need testers in place to reduce the number of people who are waiting. There is a particular issue on the west coast, particularly in County Clare, regarding the availability of testers to carry out the tests. The waiting periods there are longer and that is why I have asked for the numbers that are waiting in each test area, as well as for the numbers of testers who have been allocated to each test centre.
In the Minister of State’s initial reply, he stated that the RSA will redeploy to areas where there are longer waiting lists. If he has those figures for County Clare, he might outline them.
I have them and it is a mixed picture - in Kilrush, it is 15 weeks; Ennis, 20 weeks; and Shannon, 35 weeks, which is completely unacceptable. The 30 permanent drivers that have been recruited are being deployed to the areas where people are waiting for the longest. The focus of the RSA and its operational plan is on those who have been waiting for the longest. All of County Clare is beyond the service level agreement time, but those in Shannon and Ennis in particular are waiting far in excess of what they should be. I will reflect the Deputy’s feedback to the RSA, which is deploying additional capacity in those areas where people are waiting longest. I thank the Deputy for raising this issue.