Ontario DriveTest should not be a private sector organization

Photo by: Brenden Cowan

Ontario DriveTest should go back to being a public sector organization.

Back in 2003, the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) paid Serco Group, a private sector organization, $138 million to fully operate DriveTest Centres across the province for ten years. After the deal’s expiration on Aug 1, 2013, a new contract worth $207 million was reached with Serco Group in partnership with Plenary Group.      

Today, Serco Canada Inc., which operates under “DriveTest,” is responsible for conducting all forms of driving tests and issuing licenses for anyone looking to get their driver’s license in the province of Ontario.

The Government of Ontario privatized drive tests as a way to improve the efficiency of drive testing centres, after drive test backlogs extended over several months. The move was also part of a general plan to privatize government services and assets.

One of the main concerns with DriveTest being a private company is the lack of accountability at its driving test centres. Bad service at drive test centres is tolerated and ignored. Hundreds of people that visit driving test centres endlessly complain about bad service and leave one-star Google reviews — complaints range from long waiting times to rude employees and more. 

If DriveTest was run by the government, politicians and other public sector officials would be able to fight for better services for Ontarians. The problem with one corporation controlling a very vital part of government operations is that they have no care for customer service; with no other competitors, the company is basically a monopoly.

Another reason why DriveTest should not be in the private sector is because of the profit-seeking nature of a privately owned corporation. Driving tests cost money and test takers do not receive a refund upon failing their driving test, and as long as they still want, or need, an Ontario driver’s license, they have to pay DriveTest for each subsequent test.

Therefore, one of the ways a private sector company might maximize their revenue is by having a quota for test failures — basically failing as many people as reasonably possible to get them to pay again, to squeeze out as much money as they possibly can out of people before they get their license. 

While there’s no solid evidence that DriveTest keeps specific quotas on failing test takers, it is a fact that failure rates differ by the driving test centre. Usually, the more urban the city, the higher the failure rate. This has led to test takers shopping for cities with low failure rates.

Some might say these points do not justify taking DriveTest back into the public sector. However, if making DriveTest private was to improve the efficiency of driving test centres, Serco Group, the corporation behind it, is not doing a good job of it. Long wait times at DriveTest centres are still commonplace. There have also been shady practices with Serco Group violating MTO rules in the past.

My opinion on DriveTest is shared by many Ontarians. Since the privatization of driving tests in Ontario, there have been petitions and internet forums that share the ugly side of Ontario privatizing DriveTest. All in all, it would be in the best interest for Ontarians if DriveTest was operated by the MTO and not a profit-oriented private sector organization.    

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