It has become clear that, similar to shortage of doctors or affordable housing, another crucial service has been severely lacking in the East Kootenay. Numerous sources have reported having a difficult time booking a drivers licence test or having to wait months to rebook after failing one.
However, just as one Sparwood student was organizing a petition addressing this issue, it seems that some positive changes are on the way as ICBC is training two new driver testers, to begin serving the area later this summer.
Kurtis Chatterson is a grade 11 student at Sparwood Secondary School, and works at the Sparwood A&W. On May 10 he took a road test in Fernie, but after returning to the office with the tester he was told that “today was not his day.” He failed the test and was then informed that he wouldn’t be able to take another one for at least three months.
“Which I thought was kind of bizarre,” said Chatterson. “So I asked a few of my peers and they said the same thing, that once you fail, the legal time that you need is two weeks to get back in. But for everyone else it’s taking three or four months.”
Chatterson said that when using the ICBC online system to book his next exam he got lucky and was able to get one in less than three months’ time, but it was still a substantial time away. His first test was on May 10 and he can’t take another one until June 27. If he, for whatever reason, didn’t pass again the second time, it could very likely mean another substantial wait.
That is a problem for many people, including Chatterson, whose work has asked them to travel — the Fernie A&W location is shorthanded and need him to come help out.
“I can’t rely on anyone else to drive me to Fernie, because everyone else is going to be gone in the summertime, so I need to get myself there,” Chatterson said. “So it’s a necessity. It’s not a want, it’s a need. It effects someone’s life.”
The problem is that there is only one person who is able to give drivers testers in the whole of the East Kootenay. He’s based out of Cranbrook, but drives around to various towns, and people have expressed frustration in the online booking system, because there are narrow windows in which he is available in a specific place, and for people without a licence, it can be difficult to travel to another town to take a test.
After hearing that so many of his peers have had similar difficulties booking their own tests, they all agreed that they wanted to take action. They put together a petition, that they will be circulating to other schools around the East Kootenay, and will have an event at Sparwood Secondary on June 4 to present it.
He also got the support of Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka, who told the Townsman that this issue has been on his radar and he’s been battling it for the past eight months.
“It’s been kind of an off-and-on problem for the last year,” Shypitka explained. “It’s affecting not only students and other regular citizens of our area but it’s also affecting commercial applications like driving school, people that need their licences for their occupations right, so a pretty big issue.”
This is when he informed the Townsman that relief is currently on the way. Shypitka said that just a week ago he learned that two new examiners are coming to the area, and will begin working by June or early July.
So right as Chatterson and his peers had reached their last straw and decided to take action, steps were simultaneously being taken by ICBC to improve the situation.
“We [Shypitka’s office] put letters to the attorney general on this and we’ve made her very aware that Cranbrook needs some road testers out here,” Shypitka said. “So they’ve heard that obviously, and they’re working hard to rectify it. It’s taken a while — almost a year, but we’re getting it done and that’s the main thing.”
Adding two new examiners will literally triple the available number of testers and therefore tests available to prospective drivers in the East Kootenay. Chatterson, when told of the news, said that he will still be going ahead with the petition in order to keep making changes and raising awareness.
“Sometimes this corner of the province we don’t get recognized as much as we should and our problems sometimes aren’t exactly the same problems they get on the Lower Mainland,” said Shypitka.
“So it’s really important and I really applauded the students’ efforts of getting together and getting involved with government and staging a respectful, formal protest and bringing awareness to the issue. I think it’s fantastic these students — these young adults — are doing what they’re doing and so I thought I would help them out a little bit.”
ICBC confirmed that, “After a challenging 7-month hiring process, ICBC has successfully hired two new driver examiners for the East Kootenay region. They are currently in training and once their testing and certification is complete, we will be offering more road testing throughout the entire East Kootenay region.”
There will be two full-time permanent driver examiners and one temporary full-time examiner, who is on until November 2018 to serve Cranbrook, Creston, Invermere, Golden, Kimberley, Fernie and Sparwood.
“With recent changes we’ve made to how we provide service to the communities in the East Kootenays,” said Joanna Linsangan, media relations with ICBC, “we are actually increasing the number of appointments available in the region. As an added benefit to customers, in this past year, we’ve also introduced online booking for road tests, a substantial improvement from the former process of a monthly sign-up via phone.”
Linsangan added that they have heard and understand the frustration of new drivers about the wait times, but pointed out that ICBC continues to see a high rate of “no-shows,” which adds to the problem.
“Some drivers may not realize that when they skip their road test or arrive with a vehicle that isn’t fit to drive, they’re impacting many other drivers who are waiting for a chance to get their license. In some communities, we may only be in the city one day a month, and that unused spot could have gone to someone who may have to wait another month for their opportunity.”
She encourages drivers that are unable to make their appointment to call or cancel their appointment online. Additionally she suggests that, like drivers in other parts of the province, those that do not have a booked appointment should consider waiting on standby during the testing days, or take their test in a nearby community.