Dunno what sort of portfolio Transport Minister Simon Bridges thinks he’s in charge of.
But it looks seriously as if his ministerial domain includes a monopoly with a huge appetite for robbing the modern-day road traveller – a modern-day Dick Turpin, no less.
In this case, however, the outfit that is robbing us makes Turpin look like a choirboy and is government-approved.
It’s a company that has been licensed to print its own money by a government which in so many other matters – charter schools, for example – is about giving the public more choice.
This company is in the business of testing people for their driving licences.
It guarantees a strong revenue stream by failing the poor buggers, obliging them to come back time and time again for another go.
And it collects that much more money each time.
You could call it repeat business.
Sorry, sir (or madam).
You have failed your test.
That will cost you $88, thank you.
The Herald on Sunday today gives perturbing insights into what’s happening (here), revealing that its testing officers are under instructions to fail about 60 per cent of candidates.
Confirmation of the set rate is included in an internal memo obtained by the Herald on Sunday.
The letter from Gerard Clark, national operations manager at NZ Driver Licensing – the sole company contracted to conduct driving tests – informs staff of pass-rate expectations.
It was issued on May 2, two months after the new tests were introduced. It states: “Pass percentages for the new Full and Restricted tests should fall around the 40 per cent mark.”
The memo also notes that sites where the pass rate is 50 per cent or higher appear to be “outside the norm”, which could indicate problems with the test route or “perhaps the application of the test criteria by the Tester”.
One of the testers has done the public a big favour by passing a copy of the memo on to the HoS.
Naturally, this tester did not want to be named.
But he also claimed officers who passed too many candidates were being filmed during tests.
The high failure rate for the tough new test has already been publicised by news media since it was introduced in February.
Of 27,568 tests, just 12,123 resulted in passes. Learner drivers have paid more than $650,000 to resit the test, which costs $88 a time.
Inevitably, we are hearing denials.
The transport agency’s principal adviser for testing standards, Jim Furneaux, said there was no way testers were set a target of failing six out of 10 people.
He insisted the agency is simply making sure the test is fair for everyone.
“There is no target and there is no quota,” Furneaux said.
“There is, however, an expectation that tests will be applied consistently across the country.”
The current pass rate is around 47 per cent, he reckoned.
Oh, and he denied cameras were put in cars to monitor testers who were passing too many people.
“Cameras may be installed in an applicant’s vehicle to film a test, as long as the applicant agrees to it, “Furneaux said. “Footage from tests is used in order to assess the work of a testing officer, and as a training tool.
“The footage can also be used as evidence in cases where a complaint is made by an applicant or if the result of the test is disputed.”
So the leaked memo is a forgery?
Alf checked out the testing agency’s credentials on the NZTA website here.
It says NZ Driver Licensing (1998) Ltd conducts practical driving tests on the agency’s behalf (except that the New Zealand Defence Force conducts its own testing, presumably for tank drivers and what-have-you).
The website also tells us how to lodge a complaint if we believe a testing officer has acted inappropriately or incorrectly failed or terminated someone’s practical test.
Complaints about what looks like highway robbery, of course, should be lodged with the police.