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Alberta ends ‘Wild West system’ of privatized driver road tests after 25 years

EDMONTON — Alberta is ditching its privatized model for road testing and will administer road exams directly to new drivers.

Transportation Minister Brian Mason says 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,” Mason said Tuesday.

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.”

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.

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.”

Mason said there will be a flat fee of $83 for a standard Class 5 licence up to a Class 1 commercial truck licence, which will cost $219.

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.

“Essentially this is cost neutral to the taxpayer.”

Alberta outsourced driver testing in 1993 and is currently the only province with fully privatized road examinations.

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.”

Mason said he expects that many of the independent contractor driver examiners will be hired by the province.

“People that have not performed well in the past will be screened out but, by and large, we’re hoping to hire most of the existing driver examiners.”