Nearly 10,000 Manitobans hoping to get a driver’s licence are stuck in a massive traffic jam that’s being blamed on the pandemic and seasonal delays.
Road-test appointment waits are stretching into months; Manitoba Public Insurance is now booking tests in August.
Winnipegger Daneige Lepage, who successfully got her licence last week on the first try, said she thought her driving instructor was joking when he told her to book an appointment months ago, even though she wasn’t even halfway through her training.
"I couldn’t believe it," the 36-year-old Lepage said. "I was very, very surprised.
"I’m glad (my instructor) pushed me a bit. He said I should book it because of the wait, but I didn’t think I was ready. I was three months out when I first booked it."
Lepage said when she made the road test appointment for April in January she had had only a few lessons since beginning in November.
"I was still learning how to drive," she said. "I hadn’t learned to park yet."
Harold Tabin, owner of A Confidence Driving School, said he has been encouraging all of his students to book appointments much earlier than they expected.
"It is just crazy, just crazy," Tabin said. "I’ve been doing this for 30 years and this is the worst it has ever been.
"If they haven’t booked already, people have to wait two to three months until they can take a test; who can afford to pay for the lessons so you’re ready again?"
“It is just crazy, just crazy. I’ve been doing this for 30 years and this is the worst it has ever been." — Harold Tabin, owner of A Confidence Driving School
Tabin said he has also heard that MPI, which administers the exams, is test-driving a road-test simulator.
"They want you to pass (on) the simulator and then you take a road test," he said. "But even the examiners who have tried it have a hard time passing. I get frustrated even thinking about it."
Kristy Rydz, MPI’s manager of communications, said the Crown corporation administers about 600 Class 5 road tests at all of its driver-testing locations weekly, but the demand is way up because of the extra-long winter weather and the need to catch up from COVID-19.
"Many applicants prefer to take their road test during the summer months and we anticipate this to be the case this year, in particular, with the challenging winter that we have experienced," Rydz said.
"As well, there are still remaining COVID-19 impacts along with some limited cancellations (and) rescheduling of appointments due to weather conditions this year."
“Many applicants prefer to take their road test during the summer months and we anticipate this to be the case this year, in particular, with the challenging winter that we have experienced." — Kristy Rydz, MPI’s manager of communications
Rydz said it also doesn’t help that only about 38 per cent of students pass their first attempt at a Class 5 road test and those who don’t often immediately book another appointment to try again.
To meet the demand, Rydz said MPI is adding new test slots when it can and offering staff overtime hours. MPI has also put in place a 14-day waiting period before a driver can take another test and is requiring applicants to take a minimum of two hours of professional instruction before taking another exam if they have failed four previous times.
"We are also training new driver examiners with the goal of increasing capacity in the coming months," she said.
The situation was much the same last year. From May to August 2021, there were 10,665 scheduled Class 5 road-test appointments, MPI said.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.