RMV cuts number of road testers
Rather than wait around for hours at the RMV, Gail Macdonald of Quincy went online to schedule her daughter’s driving test.
She ended up waiting for five weeks.
“Basically, it’s impossible to schedule,” she said in a phone interview.
Macdonald said she either had to drive more than 40 miles to a test center or wait for an appointment close to home.
After waiting 45 minutes on the phone, she said, “Finally someone said, ‘You have to get on the computer real early in the morning,’ and I found something on May 2 — that I scheduled on March 27.”
According to Macdonald, the process wasn’t nearly as cumbersome when her two sons got their licenses about six years ago.
“The system is overwhelmed. If you went in now to book a road test, for all intents and purposes, this isn’t really working,” Macdonald said.
Budget cuts have reduced the number of road test examiners around the state, leading to long waiting times, particularly at the larger testing sites, such as Braintree, Plymouth, and Brockton.
In the last year or so, some say things have become unmanageable.
“We see a lot of kids about to get their license . . . and people are asking if they can get it where they go to college,” said Dan Strollo, owner of In Control driving school in Andover and president of the Professional Drivers’ Education Association of Massachusetts.
“I heard rumors that kids [from the Boston area] are traveling to Western Massachusetts to get licenses,’’ Strollo said.
“I was told a story last week . . . at the Nantucket Registry, someone took the boat to the islands to get their license.”
Raymond Haley, owner of Quincy Auto School, said his employees call the Registry every day looking for tests, mostly to no avail.
“At first, we could get a road test within three days. Now you’re lucky if you get one in three weeks. A lot of times you sit on the phone for half an hour and they say, ‘We’re not even booking them, and we can’t tell you when we are.’”
To deal with the backup, Registry of Motor Vehicles sites have offered to give driving tests on weekends if driving schools bring a large number of students to take the tests back to back.
Although that may help clear some of the backlog, it’s a serious disadvantage to smaller driving schools, which say they don’t have the luxury of bringing in large classes of students at once.
“We can’t afford to bring 30 people up on a Saturday and go through all the paperwork it takes to arrange a Saturday road test,” Haley said.
Haley said the number of testers has decreased in the last few years because of a difficult economy. As such, the remedy lies with the state Legislature, he said.
“We’ve been in business since the ’50s, and it’s just insane to see us struggling when road tests are a good source of revenue,” he said.
The complaint is one some legislators have heard.
“We’re in the early stages of looking to see what’s going on and responding accordingly,” said state Senator John Keenan, a Quincy Democrat.
“I know the Registry is constantly looking to do more online . . . but the issue here is availability and ability to administer the test. . . . It is a personnel issue, and we have started to look into it.”
According to numbers from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which oversees the budget for all local RMVs, the number of road test examiners has been reduced from a peak of 59 examiners in January 2008 to 35.5 examiners at present.
Meanwhile, the number of people taking tests has increased. In 2009, 137,735 tests were administered. In 2010, that number rose to 146,299, and in 2011 to 147,935.
The result is longer waiting times. In 2008, tests were booked on average two weeks out. Currently, there’s a five-week wait, MassDOT staff reported.
RMV staffing levels previously weren’t a concern because, before 2007, State Police administered all road tests.
Rachel Kaprielian, the registrar for the RMV, agreed that there is a problem, and it is something administrators are trying to correct immediately.
Just last week, the Registry posted job openings for eight road testers that will be placed in areas with the highest demand, she said.
“A wait for a road test is longer. It’s all part of doing more with less, with state budget cuts implemented in the interim.
We’re trying to manage those real budget constraints while serving our customers,” Kaprielian said. “That said, the customer service level is not acceptable, which is why we are hiring eight additional road test examiners.
“We will do an analysis at that time, see if we’re meeting our customer needs better, and if we need to hire more,’’ she said.
“”We will see what we can do.” The goal is to have the new testers in place by the Registry’s busiest season — when school gets out for summer.
Engineers are also working to address the inability of the current computer system to book appointments more than a month out, which is adding to the frustration.
“We’re open to doing new things if that’s what our customers would respond to,” Kaprielian said.
If the problem is funding, Strollo said, the fee should be increased. The fee for a driving test is $20, and typically examiners can do three tests an hour, he said.
“If they raise it to $25 . . . a kid wants to get their license, they will do that,’’ Strollo said.
“We’re charging what it costs,” Kaprielian said. “We’re reticent to raise fees, and when we do, we don’t do it impulsively.”
Jessica Bartlett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.