Edmonton

Alberta to end 'Wild West' privatized driving exam system

The Alberta government is ending the driving examination system that was privatized in 1993 by then-premier Ralph Klein. As of March 1, 2019, all driver exams will be conducted by government employees.

As of March 1, 2019, all driver exams will be conducted by government employees

Service Alberta Minister Brian Malkinson looks on as Transportation Minister Brian Mason announces the end of Alberta's privatized driver examination system. (CBC)

If your son or daughter is taking a driving test next summer, the examiner will be an Alberta government employee, ending what Transportation Minister Brian Mason called a "Wild West" system. 

Mason announced Tuesday that the government is ending the driving examination system that was privatized in 1993 by then-premier Ralph Klein.

As of March 1, 2019, all driver exams will be conducted by government employees.

"It's a Wild West kind of system that has not served Albertans well," Mason said at a news conference in Edmonton. 

Alberta is the only province in Canada with a completely privatized road test framework. 

The privatized system has been riddled with problems, Mason said.

On average, Alberta Transportation receives seven complaints about driver examinations every weekday.

Examiners can charge what they want, and access to driving tests in rural areas is limited. Mason said there have been complaints about people being failed so they can be charged for a second test, or examiners passing drivers who performed poorly on the examination. 

"There are instances of harassment and even assault," Mason said. "It's pretty clear that we have a system that's broken and we need to fix that." 

System not broken, Kenney says

Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party Official Opposition, said he opposed the changes.

"The NDP, intent on further growing government spending in era of massive deficits, is 'fixing' something that isn't broken," Kenney wrote on Twitter.

"Private-sector model has worked over the past 25 years. If a few bad actors exist, should address. But this change is drastic overreach."

Mason said Tuesday's announcement was a result of consultation with the majority of respondents favouring a return to government-run examinations. 

Mason said the changes have support from registry agents and driving-safety organizations like the Alberta Motor Association. 

Changes to how Alberta truckers are trained and licensed are coming in the next couple of weeks.

Alberta is making the changes in response to the Saskatchewan highway crash that killed 16 people and injured 13 others when a transport truck from Alberta collided with the Humboldt Broncos team bus last April.

Mason said in July that the crash pushed him to overhaul how the industry is regulated in Alberta. 

Online booking system

The new system will be "revenue-neutral," Mason said, because costs will be offset by the fees from road tests. 

The cost to operate the new system will be $15.9 million a year. The government plans to hire 161 full-time equivalent positions. There are currently 153 private examiners in Alberta. 

For the new system coming in next March, the government plans to set up an online system for people to book time for their tests. People can still make appointments through registries. 

Fees will be standard across the province. The cost of a test for a Class 5 license, which is held by the majority of Albertans, will be $83. The average cost of a test under the privatized system is $89.50. 

The new employees will have to follow the government's code of conduct, Mason said. The province is also setting up a call centre to take complaints about road tests. 

Current examiners are welcome to apply for these new jobs, Mason said. He said the majority of examiners conduct themselves professionally. 

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