Motorcycle bodies are warning that driving schools across the country will have to sack staff or close down operations because the government is rushing through plans to cut the number of test centres.
From September 29, learner motorcyclists must attend one of 39 new multi-purpose test centres, rather than the existing network of more than 200 sites, to take a more stringent test required under the European Commission’s driving licence directive.
The sharp reduction in facilities, operated by the Driving Standards Agency, (DSA) could force many of those hoping to take tests to travel for more than an hour on “L” plates to get to one of the newly-accredited centres, according to instructors.
Owners of the motorbike driving schools, almost all of which are small businesses, claim they are unable to accept new bookings because they can only get test slots that are at unreasonable times or several months away.
Alex Pinch, who runs On Your Bike Training in Cornwall, said he will be forced to make all four of his employees redundant when the new regime begins. Any people he does then teach will have to travel 64 miles to the nearest test centre in Exeter.
“It is putting a lot of small businesses at risk,” Pinch said, adding that the earliest test slot he has been given at Exeter is in mid-December. “If we cannot do the tests, we cannot employ instructors.”
Pinch stressed that he was not against the new test requirements, but said they were being introduced before the infrastructure was in place to meet the demand.
Nigel Osborne, who has run Channel Rider Training in Kent since 1984, is closing one of his two offices because he cannot run the same number of training courses with so few test slots available.
“If we don’t have tests booked, we cannot book courses,” he said
The Motor Cycle Industry Association and the Motor Rider Training Association (MRTA), which represent the driving schools, are meeting Jim Fitzpatrick, the transport minister, this week in a last-ditch attempt to get the new test’s introduction delayed for a couple of months. Frank Finch, head of the MRTA, warned that the current proposals would “crucify” the training industry.
A spokesman for the British Motorcyclists Federation, which represents those taking tests, predicted that the number of driving instructor businesses that cease trading as a result of the changes will run into three figures.
The DSA said it plans to have more of the new test centres open in future months and has organised for about a dozen additional sites to be available on a part-time basis from September 29. “We are sorry that some learner motorcyclists may have to travel further to take their test,” a spokesman said.
“Most candidates will be able to reach a centre within 45 minutes, travelling no more than 20 miles, and any learner biker ready to take their test should already be safe and confident riding on the roads.”