Value for Money Examination33; Driver Testing Summary

The Department of the Environment and Local Government (the Department) is responsible for the provision of the driver testing service. Despite carrying out almost 150,000 tests in 1999, the waiting list for tests at the end of the year remains at 87,000 applicants. This value for money examination was concerned with aspects of the economy and efficiency of the provision of the driver testing service.

Uniformity of Driving Tests

An important element of the efficiency of the provision of driving tests is to ensure their uniformity across all driving test centres. To this end, supervisory testers conduct almost 2,000 tests per year to check the application of the test procedures. Based on the results of these tests the Chief Tester expects that the national pass rate for the driving test should be in the range of 57% to 60%.

The actual pass rates reveal a wide variation when analysed according to the driving test centres. In 1998 the pass rates varied from 47% in Gorey to 71% in Sligo. The national average was 57% which is at the lower end of expectations. The variation in pass rates is not random. Centres in the three eastern regions tended to have pass rates below the national average while centres in the western regions generally exceeded the national average. A similar pattern can be observed in previous years which suggests that there is either a difference in the standard of driving between the regions or, more likely, there is a difference in the standard of the driving test applied.

The potential causes of such a wide variation in driving test results are a combination of the following factors.

  • Some testers fairly consistently have pass rates substantially higher or lower than their colleagues in the same centres. Analysis to identify patterns in the faults observed by individual testers has shown significant differences in the types of faults recorded, leading the Chief Tester to conclude that different testers are applying different standards of marking and assessment.
  • There have been delays in introducing procedures which would help to ensure the application of common standards.
  • Refresher training of driver testers in the period 1995-1999 was curtailed due to the level of demand for tests and increasing waiting times.
  • There are no set standards in force for driving tuition and the driver testing service has no regulatory function in respect of driving instructors.
  • Although the Department has a minimum specification of suitable road features and required test manoeuvres, it is acknowledged that some routes are more challenging than others.

Waiting Times for Driving Tests

The waiting time for a driving test is another key efficiency indicator for the driver testing service. Between 1995 and 1998, the number of driving tests carried out by the Department did not increase in line with the increase in applications and the waiting list for tests rose sharply from 26,000 at the end of 1994 to almost 87,000 at the end of 1998. Although the supply of tests will equal demand in 1999, the waiting list at the end of the year will remain at the end-1998 level.

The 1999 performance target was for 95% of all candidates to have their test within 15 weeks of the date of application. This target was not met. The average waiting time for all centres was in excess of 30 weeks at the start of 1999 but has been falling gradually during the year. The Department now expects that the longest waiting time at any centre will be cut to 10 weeks by the end of 2000.

There are wide variations in waiting times for tests between the test centres, ranging from 13 weeks in Monaghan, a small centre, to 59 weeks in Finglas, one of the busiest centres. Driving testers are appointed to headquarter centres and travel out to non-headquarter centres to conduct tests on a regular rotational basis. They are not deployed to maintain reasonable consistency in waiting times between test centres. There is scope for reducing waiting times, particularly in the centres in Dublin, by the deployment of testers based on the demand for tests in each centre, with testers travelling out to other centres only as the need arises.

Supply of Driving Tests

The supply of driving tests is based on the number of testers employed and the productivity achieved. The Department was slow to respond to the rising level of applications between 1995 and 1999 for a number of reasons.

  • The lack of a system to analyse or forecast the demand for driving tests hampered its ability to plan the number of testers required. The Department is now considering developing a model to forecast demand for tests.
  • Although the Department proposed the employment of extra testers on a temporary contract basis in 1996, this was resisted by the driver testers' representative association until November 1998.
  • A backlog of work in the Civil Service Commission delayed the recruitment of additional testers.

Staff productivity was examined by reviewing the staff utilisation rate and the average output per tester. The theoretical maximum number of tests which could be performed is 2,061 per tester per year. In practice, this number cannot be achieved because time has to be allowed for factors such as training, sickness, administrative duties or travel. Between 1995 and 1998, the Department had set a target productivitylevel of 1,716 standard tests per tester per year which is 83% of the theoretical maximum. This target was not met. A productivity deal under the Programme for Competitiveness and Work increased the productivity target to 1,847 standard tests per tester per year. It is expected that in 1999, actual productivity will be well short of this target. In an effort to increase the number of tests supplied, more frequent use of overtime has been made since 1996. One test in ten is provided on overtime.

The examination found that there is scope for tightening up the management of test appointments particularly in the area of cancellations of tests at short notice by the Department.

Cost of Driver Testing

The cost of providing the service was ?4.5 million in 1998 which was 31% more than in 1995. Just under 25% of expenditure relates to administration while the remainder represents direct costs (principally testers' salaries) in providing the service. The unit cost per test has increased by 21% from ?31 in 1995 to ?37.60 in 1998. The general rate of inflation for the same period was 7%. The increase in unit costs in real terms over the period confirms the significant drop in efficiency already established by the waiting time and productivity statistics.

There is scope for considerable cost savings through better management of travel and subsistence payments and a revision of headquartering arrangements. The average travel and subsistence payments in 1998 were ?7,200 per tester and ?14,200 per supervisor tester. If a different allocation of testers to each centre had been used, a 200 increase in the overall number of tests supplied and an 8% decrease in the unit cost per test could have been achieved, with a saving of some ?290,000 in travel and subsistence payments. The Department is negotiating for revisions of the allocation of staff to test centres but has acknowledged that more extensive reform in this area is desirable. Progress will be influenced by industrial relations considerations.

Further cost savings could be achieved by changes in the rotation of testers between centres and in the manner in which the visits of supervisory testers to centres is organised.

The Department has a policy that sufficient revenue should be raised from driver testing fees to cover the costs of providing the service. The current level of fees was set in 1992 and no longer covers the costs of providing the service. In 1998, the average fee recovered per standard 45 minute test was ?29.20 compared to an average cost incurred per standard test of ?37.60. This implies that only 78% of costs were recovered. The backlog of tests at the end of 1998 was almost 87,000 tests for which fees of approximately ?2.7 million were prepaid. The estimated cost of providing these tests is ?3.6 million, resulting in a significant subsidy of the service by the general taxpayer.