Robin Kiatipis was a week away from taking her G level road test last month when she learned about the Ontario DriveTest strike. Kiatipis is one of many drivers (or would-be drivers) who have felt the impact of what has been dubbed the “forgotten strike”.
“I had every intention of going to take my test and then a week before, I realized I can’t. It’s an inconvenience to me and everyone else whose license is expiring,” Kiatipis said.
Into the seventh week of the province’s DriveTest strike, instructors and administrators are stressing their concern over public safety. They say without awareness of the dangers involved, both while on strike and under contract, the risks will become reality for everyone.
“We want safety for the province of Ontario more than anything else,” said Lawrence Smith, past president of Local 9511 DriveTest.
Since being unionized 6 years ago by Serco DES Inc., workers say their contracts grew increasingly uncertain as their seniority status became futile. Serco got into the habit of hiring part-time staff to do road tests.
“The integrity of the driver exam is at risk,” says Smith.
Matt Mazuryk, team picket captain at the Port Union DriveTest location, said for every full-timer laid off, two part-timers were hired.
“[Road tests] requires a lot of time and skill to do properly, so we are concerned about public safety as far as that is concerned,” said Mazuryk.
While the lockout continues, the Ministry of Transportation is providing extensions for drivers like Kiatipis, who require testing in order to be eligible for renewal. With her license due to expire in December, she has only two months remaining before an extension will apply. This extension will last until DriveTest services resume, upon which there will undoubtedly be a massive rush to reschedule and renew.
Also, drivers under the restriction of required testing as a result of poor driving records (collisions, demerit points, etc.) are granted test-free driving privileges under temporary regulation until the strike is over. This can pose a serious safety hazard for all who share the road.
“I’m a concerned citizen because we have licenses for a purpose. We have to go take our test to make sure that we are capable of driving. If we don’t have those tests in place, who’s to say the person next to you isn’t going to cut you off or check their blind spot before they pull into your lane, or cause some kind of accident because they’re not qualified to be driving,” said Kiatipis.
Among these are drivers, classified or commercial, who continue to share the road without a valid license. One TTC driver walked up to the doors of the DriveTest to drop off medical documentation, required in order to keep his license.
“All we would have had to do is enter it into the system and he would be fine,” said Mazuryk.
The driver must now go through the ministry’s Driver Improvement Office, in order to send the records.
Without medical clearance on classified drivers, children on school buses and commuters on the TTC could be passengers in a potentially life-threatening situation.
“It’s a problem because they are taking care of other people and they are going to be without their license. Who knows if they’re actually qualified to be driving those buses?” said Kiatipis.
Since the government put a blanket override extending expiring licenses, and has waved fines for Serco, which would have penalized an excess of 42 days of backlog caused by the strike, it seems a resolution is at the bottom of their priority list.
Without pressure from the public, one DriveTest protester insists nothing will get done. Kiatipis says she hopes that the government will pay more attention and take more action to fix the problem, for the sake of safer roads.
“People definitely should be more concerned, and there should be way more media attention towards it because I don’t think a lot of people even know about it. It affects everyone.”
In the meantime, DriveTest has set up a Question and Answer section on their website concerning Service Disruptions.