Problems in the Learners and Drivers Licence Booking System in South Africa

Waiting for a driver's licence test appointmentUnderstand what you are in for when you need to book a test:

If you have had to ask for time off from work or school, be prepared to take a day off. It can mean applying for unpaid leave in some cases. Schools do not generally appreciate pupils cancelling school to book tests. A letter to the Headmaster might be required.

Expect to queue for hours. The queue may be in the hot sun with no cover from the elements, and no seating, toilets, refreshments or facilities, such as card swiping. Take cash! Take a folding chair if you have trouble standing for any length of time. Take water and a snack. I have reported that a queue did not move for several hours. When I slipped inside, no-one was on  the counter serving the public. The staff paid to serve the public were happily eating in their own communal room while the people patiently waited outside, trusting that someone inside was actually working.

This is a shocking disgrace! It inconveniences everyone and shows a total lack of care or consideration for anyone. One sees thin, poorly dressed, previously disadvantaged people, used to being the underdog, calmly enduring this ongoing ill-treatment by a complete lack of decent, responsible management of DLTCs. For driving instructors who have to go to the Drivers Licence Testing Centres every time we take a client for a test, we see people subdued by the inhumanity and arrogance of little people vested with power over their fellow human beings, wielding it with little efficiency, or compassion for anyone. One cannot help but ask, “How much has actually changed?” Managers frequently avoid being seen by the public. They stay in their offices, apparently indifferent to the long queues, or is it that they are unable to tackle the multiple inefficiencies of their staff members? Are they afraid to? Sometimes it is not their fault. They are hampered by very limited resources.

There is no guarantee that you will get finished in one day, if you are unlucky enough to go on a day when it is very busy, such as when regular Union meetings are held, or when a security guard appears and tells everyone to go home because they are not handling bookings that day. It does not matter if you were up early and travelled to book a test after taking a day’s leave, and getting permission from school or work to go to book. These security guards throw their weight around and summarily order everyone away.

We were so angry that we reported one of these incidents to the National Department of Transport during 2013.  A very helpful person immediately phoned the Manager of the DLTC and gave instructions that everybody in the queue had to be helped that day. The security guard had to go out and call everybody back. This was a first victory for us! Oh for CUSTOMER SERVICE!

Given the fact that there have been ongoing burglaries in many DLTCs where as many as 23 computers as well as LCU machines have been stolen, through holes made in the ceilings, which are quite clearly internal jobs, one wonders why security guards are given so much authority. They officiously order people around in a rude and arrogant way, making people exchange covert glances, as they are subjected to this treatment. The public tends to stay quiet, fearing a Nazi-style form of reprisal if they dare to object.

Gone are the days where we could walk in and wait in a short queue and obtain a driving licence appointment within one week, which was the case before 2001.

Instructors taking their clients for tests are treated so badly in many places – “Who are you?” Is shouted at them as they approach the gate. “Go! Go stand outside!” It can be pouring with rain, and the client must use the instructor’s vehicle for the test. No waiting room is provided for instructors or anyone else for that matter. Nobody cares if we have “flu and might get bronchitis or pneumonia. We are required to stand in the pouring rain!

We do understand that corruption has reached epidemic proportions at DLTCs, and some dishonest “instructors” will bribe examining officers in order to get passes, but why not regulate the driving school industry as a matter of extreme urgency? Why let the criminals inside? Haven’t we been asking for laminated identification labels for years, once we have qualified as legal driving instructors?

Delays in appointments across the country vary considerably. The fact of the matter is that there are generally too few testing centres and examining officers to meet the need of the growing population. Far more people now have the opportunity of obtaining company or Government vehicles than ever before.

Expect to wait in three queues to book your driving licence test appointment in the major centres – one to have an eye check; one to be allocated a date for your test and time, and one to pay.

There is usually NO negotiation about this date. If you should be writing matric or have a family funeral or any similar emergency, be sure that it will take hours trying to exchange the date for a more convenient one. It is so difficult that many people just give up, let that appointment go, and pay again for a more suitable one. They should not have to lose that money! That is also complicated, since one cannot book again as long as an existing appointment is still on the E-NaTIS system. Only once the date of the first test has passed, may you make a new appointment.

We have also experienced valid paid test appointments being abruptly cancelled with no warning due to testing centres being closed down due to corruption. The public is very seldom refunded or offered an alternative appointment. South Africans just have to take it in their stride, accepting this appalling lack of service as one of the facts of life these days.

This is not intended as a political statement – just an undeniable statement of fact. The fact is, we as driving instructors, should be far too busy trying to reduce the road fatality rate in the country by producing excellent new drivers to have to tolerate this lack of efficiency in the booking system.

We want the E-NaTIS Booking System! (It is NOT available!)

At one stage, we at SAIDI, together with everybody else, had the benefit of booking appointments on the ENaTIS system on an experimental basis  in Pretoria / Tshwane area some years ago. What a convenient system! Any time, night or day, all one had to do was complete a form with the pupil’s name, id number and code of test appointment required. Early the next morning we were sometimes thrilled to receive a date which suited us and our pupils perfectly. On one or two occasions the date allocated was not suitable for some reason, and it was a relatively simple matter to write in to ask for an exchange. This experimental system has been stopped for some years now, but we would really like to see this system introduced on a country-wide basis.

The argument against it is that not everybody has access to a computer and the internet. We say that is something which can easily be overcome! When people go to do their grocery shopping, they could make an application similar to the Compunet booking system for theatre shows. Post Offices could appoint one person to handle the bookings too, and all computer outlets. If  and when the E-NaTIS system is secure, then it will work for everybody.

Once an appointment is allocated, an sms could be sent on a weekly basis to the applicant, asking them to go to the relevant testing centre to confirm the booking by producing the necessary documentation and paying. If an allocated appointment is not confirmed by a certain date, it can be returned to the system and some alternative fortunate person will benefit by a quick appointment.

Surely that would be convenient for everybody, as well as being fair? It would mean first come, first serve – no favourites, no preferential treatment for anybody.

It would also show quite clearly what the true demand for appointments is, and just how short the system falls on providing adequate DLTCs and test appointments.This would enable the authorities to have facts available to request that new facilities be offered.

That shortfall is not so evident now, because people simply leave the testing centres when they do not get satisfaction.

Sadly, many will decide to buy a licence if they can’t do it the legal way, or if they have had repeated failures.

Who is actually to blame if there is no legal way to obtain a driving licence quickly in order to be employed and feed a family? We will never condone any corrupt activities, but we do understand why people take the corrupt route!

When we at SAIDI attend meetings with the Government, we constantly ask for improved services, with more Drivers Licence Testing Centres and more examining officers, to meet the need of the growing population due to the increasing need for driving licences, which is a wonderful thing!

After all, having a legal driving licence empowers our people to become independent adults, capable of earning a living, opening businesses, and improving the economy as thousands of entrepreneurs enter the market place. Having a driving licence is one of the best BEE projects in the country. It is presently being strangled by this poorly managed driving licence booking system.

So much has increased so much in the last 30 years! With the exception of a few new Provincial DLTC’s, no improvements have been made since then.

If the system does not meet the need of the population, that is poor customer service. It is a direct cause of corruption so it MUST be addressed as a matter of urgency!

We also ask for tests to be increased to every 30 minutes instead of every hour. If the number of examiners is doubled, then with the maximum time permitted in the yard work being 20 minutes and 59 seconds, there is ample opportunity to bring in a whole new set of examining officers and double the number of applicants being tested by testing on the half-hour in-between. The problem is, there is no budget allocated by the Municipalities for examiners salaries.

We are also aware that numerous trained examining officers (trained at the expense of the tax-payers at roughly R20 000.00 per applicant,) were released onto the streets without work, since there were no salaries for them. This matter was covered up and hidden from public knowledge, but we heard about it through a very reliable source. 

With few exceptions, you can expect a long delay when you go to book a test!