‘It’s really frustrating,’ new drivers struggling with Ontario’s driving test backlog

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T.J. Beckham has tried to book a driving test in Ontario so many times he’s memorized his 15-digit licence number.

The 25-year-old said he checked again Wednesday and the earliest slot available is January 2022.

“It’s really frustrating,” he said.

The province resumed in-car driving tests on June 14, but the backlog to book a road test is staggering. The Ministry of Transportation said 421,827 road tests have been cancelled since March 2020 due to pandemic-related lockdowns.

The ministry said it has invested $16 million to deal with the backlog. Last fall it said it would hire 84 temporary driver examiners for its DriveTest centres, and has so far filled 35 of those positions. It recently announced it would hire 167 additional driver examiners, and recruitment is underway with the goal to have everyone on board by September.

The ministry said it will also add six temporary locations and offer road testing seven days a week where demand is highest, namely the Toronto area.

Beckham moved home to Hamilton last year during the pandemic because Toronto was too expensive.

He got his G1 or beginner’s licence just before COVID-19 took hold last year. That means he must drive with a passenger who has four years driving experience and cannot drive on highways, among other conditions.

He said he didn’t think much of getting his G2 licence, which requires a road test, until his company began talking about a return to the office in September. The G2 licence would allow him to drive alone and on highways.

In early June, when he heard driving tests would resume, he tried to book online. The earliest slot was late September in Hamilton. He didn’t book it, but tried to find appointments closer in time but farther afrield.

But nothing was available from Orillia to Owen Sound, Ont. When he looked again a few days later in Hamilton, there was nothing available until mid-December.

With the ministry adding more time slots on a rolling basis, Beckham wanted to move his appointment up. But the system forced him to cancel his December appointment first before he was able to look for new dates.

“Do I stick with the December appointment, or do I lose it to risk getting appointments sooner or later,” he said.

He cancelled it and began logging in hourly.

Last week he managed to find a last-minute test spot for the following day in Hamilton.

“I didn’t know if I’d get this chance again so I booked it,” he said, despite feeling he didn’t have enough practice under his belt.

“Sadly, I did not pass, took two turns a little too fast and forgot my blinker when parallel parking.”

Now he’s trying to book again.

In Burlington, Ont., Kyle Hutton began looking for driving test appointments in late May, but nothing was available until October.

The 25-year-old also looked all over southern Ontario, but there was nothing to be had. So he booked the October appointment and does not want to risk cancelling it in hopes of booking something sooner.

“It’s more of an inconvenience right now because I’m working from home during the pandemic,” Hutton said. “It will be a problem when the office opens back up.”

Ajmal Houshahi started a driving school last year in Barrie, Ont., but has struggled due to the pandemic.

“I’m hardly surviving,” he said.

While he was able to conduct the classroom portion of driving instruction online during the pandemic, he hasn’t been able to offer in-car lessons since January — until Wednesday.

“It’s going to be very busy,” he said. “It’s tough because my school is new, but I’m hoping that it will be really busy for three or four months so I can earn some money and pay my bills.”

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press