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Free driving tests are a poster child  for government (mis)management and the problems with something for nothing

In brief

  • Wait times for driving tests have increased, averaging around 10 weeks in cities and towns.
  • The cause: Free driver resits without penalties for no-shows has led to a large number of missed appointments.
  • There is still no system to accommodate a wait list when no-shows occur, despite the problem being glaring.
  • This mismanagement of the free test policy reflects broader efficiency issues within government. 

Why do we have a problem with wait times?

There has been a lot of coverage, since October last year, on the significant wait times in both major cities and smaller towns, for on road driving tests.

The blow out in wait times began with the introduction of free driver resits (you pay for the first road test, but resits are free) in October, last year, under Labour. 

Not only is there no penalty if people cancel or don’t show up for their follow up test, but there is also no ability for anyone else to be waitlisted to use the missed appointments.

The media has mainly focused on the public’s inconvenience resulting from longer wait times for driving tests, but the root causes of these delays are not being discussed. 

Testing officers told us that they’ve had up to six no shows out of eight tests booked in one day. We’ve also heard that a quarter or more of scheduled tests are missed.  

Resits could still be free but with some sort of cost for abusing that privilege, like a charge for the next appointment after a no show(as opposed to re-scheduling, which is different). As it is, it both condones waste and is also inconsiderate. That is not a good message.  

Why is the fix in the “too-hard basket”?  

Any well managed operation would fix this in very short order. Instead, when you ask to be waitlisted they won’t allow it. When pressed for an explanation the answer was that it would be unfair to someone who was five minutes late. 

We think that is a solvable problem, but just in case there is a reluctance to break such new ground, there are definitely overseas jurisdictions that have been allowing wait lists for years.

This sort of myopia to an obvious prospective problem, plus the  slow response once the problem is identified, is symptomatic of broader issues within government operations. 

The problem is exacerbated with the free resits but it existed to a lesser degree before. It should have been resolved a very long time ago.

Hopefully the government will treat this as a cautionary tale. Despite the best of intentions, lack of proper planning  means poor productivity and damage to the public’s trust in governmental competence. 

Average wait times are long everywhere in NZ 

Average current wait time to get a booking to sit your practical test in Auckland is around 10 weeks. A quick phone call, on 14 June 2024, to Waka Kotahi’s customer service line to book a practical test resulted in being told it would be late August, at best, for a booking. 

When asked about booking in other places, like Tauranga, North Island, or even Dargaville, it’s the same wait times. The message is “Sorry, our testing centres are just very busy.” They suggested checking the booking site frequently to see if cancellations came up, but this is not the same as a wait-list system. 

So what is being done about it?

Mainstream media have reported that Waka Kotahi are hiring more testing officers to try and address this problem and the reintroduction of resit fees is being considered.  

There is no talk of the obvious wait list system as something that could help a lot.

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