Road tests to be done by government employees: Alta.

The Alberta government is going ahead with plans to hire road examiners as provincial employees, a move that will strengthen what it says is a flawed system.

Starting March 1, all driver examinations will be conducted by government employees. Fees for tests will roughly be the same. Albertans will still go to registry agents to book their exams.

Transportation Minister Brian Mason, who today announced the changes, said the new model will ensure that examinations meet high standards of safety and reliability.

He criticized the current privatized model, which was implemented in 1993.

“It’s a wild west kind of system that has not served Albertans well,” he said.

“It’s pretty clear that we have a system that’s broken and we need to fix that.”

The province chose to make the changes after reviewing Alberta’s road-test model. A third party report, conducted in 2016 by Tantus Solutions Group, found complaints of inconsistent fees, poor service, fraud, and harassment.

The change would put Alberta in line with all other Canadian provinces, which have publicly employed examiners.

“With the model we are proposing, we think this is a basic function of government, and it shouldn’t have been privatized,” he said.

However, this isn’t the only change that’s on the way.

In the next few weeks, Mason is expected to announce new training rules for people seeking Class 1 and Class 2 licenses, which let users drive semi-tractor trailers and buses.

He has previously said the province will adopt mandatory training for those users, a move that all three prairie provinces are expected to implement.

“Training for Class 1 and 2 licenses will be more rigorous,” he said.

There has been increased pressure on governments to enforce mandatory training for Class 1 and 2 licenses.

The crash in April involving the Humboldt Broncos bus and a semi in northeastern Saskatchewan has caused governments to re-think current training standards. As well, the crash involving dairy farmers Henk and Bettina Schuurmans near Saskatoon during a cross-country tractor trip has kept the issue on the radar.

However, some people are taking issue with the new changes to the road-test system.

In a tweet on Twitter, United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney criticized the NDP government’s move.

He said the private sector training model has worked and that the change only increases government spending.

“If a few bad actors exist, should address,” he tweeted. “But this change is drastic overreach.”

Mason said hiring government employees will be cost neutral, meaning the province expects it won’t lose or make money.

The changes will cost $2.7 million in operating expenses in 2018-19 and $15.9 million a year after that, but Mason expects the costs will be offset by the revenue from road test fees.

As for other changes, Mason said the province will hire 161 full-time employees, up from the current 153 privatized examiners. He’s open to hiring private examiners, as long as they’re good candidates. They will go through a rigorous interview and screening process.

People will be able to book their tests online or through registry agents. The government will set up a call centre to deal with complaints.

As well, examiners will have GPS technology and mobile tablets, which Mason said will help improve access, especially for those in rural and remote areas.

“With the current model, the registries have difficulty booking in rural areas,” he said. “They will be dispatched as necessary.”

Road test fee changes:

Once the change comes into effect, a Class 1 test will go from an average of $219 per test to a standardized fee of $217.

Class 2 will go from $169 per test to $167 per test.

Class 3 from $157.5 to $155.5.

Class 4 from $143 to $141.

Class 5 from $89.50 to $83.

Class 5 Advanced from $143 to $138.

Class 6 from $145 to $143.

Class 6 Advanced from $145 to $143.

Contact jeremy.simes@producer.com

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