The road towards obtaining a driver’s licence in Gauteng is pitted with potholes.
The call centre you have to phone to book a licence test can answer only one in five calls. But you can sidestep the formalities by paying R2 500 for an “efficiency fee”.
This week Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele reported Magistrate Daniel Thulare to the Magistrate’s Commission for comments he made to the Sowetan on Monday.
Thulare argued that learners who had been struggling to make an appointment for a driver’s licence test should not be held criminally liable for driving without a licence once their learner’s had expired.
When the Mail & Guardian attempted to make a licence test appointment, the response from a friendly Margaret at the Gauteng provincial government call centre was: “We don’t have dates. I can’t see any dates on the system — You can call back, maybe every hour.”
Philemon Motshoaedi, spokesperson for the Gauteng department of roads and transport, said that the call centre cannot keep up. It receives “500 000 [calls a month], but they can help only 66 000 per month. This means we can [answer] only one in every five calls.”
Not everyone is willing to keep trying. The backlog is leading to corrupt relationships among some call centre agents, licence examiners and private driving instructors.
“There’s a fee you pay,” a recent graduate from learner to licence-holder told the M&G. “It’s called an efficiency fee. My driving instructor said if I paid him R2 500, it would secure a date [for the test] and a guaranteed pass.”
Another new driver who paid more than R2 000 said: “You can ask for any date and to be passed. I pay the instructor and the instructor pays the examiner. No cash changed hands between me and the examiner.”
But securing a test date by fair means or foul doesn’t get you past the potholes. The M&G understands from an industry expert that the department does not have the capacity to test all those it provides with learner’s licences before these expire.
Over a seven-month period last year the department tested 150 000 people for learner’s licences, but had the capacity to run only 38 000 driving tests. The department declined to say how many learner’s licences it actually issued in this period.
Motshoaedi conceded that the department could not cope with the demand for licences and plans to increase the current 31 testing centres by four a year over the next three years.
But this, too, will be inadequate, says Pat Allen, national president of the South African Institute of Driving Instructors.
The “inefficient” call centre, the small number of testing officers and poorly managed testing centres only aggravated corruption, Allen said.
Motshoaedi acknowledged a “critical shortage of testing officers”. Regarding “efficiency fees”, he said: “We do still get allegations of fraud and corruption, but we haven’t received tangible evidence for us to act decisively — If we do, legal action will definitely be taken.”