Safety professionals alarmed over low-priced driving training

Ontario truck driver training institutions and safety professionals are claiming fraudulent activity by some schools that offer A/Z training for very low tuition fees – and a report by the province’s auditor general raises concerns of its own.

“You can find MELT (mandatory entry level training) programs advertised in the Greater Toronto Area for $3,500. It costs around $6,000 to $7,000 to deliver that program,” says Rolf VanderZwaag, CEO Techni-Com, a business that produces compliance and training products for driver training and vehicle inspection.

Radek Rogowski, operations manager at Richards Driving School, delivers in-class training as part of the MELT program in Mississauga, Ont. (Photo: Leo Barros)

Radek Rogowski, operations manager at Richards Driving School in Mississauga, Ont., says ultra-low fees can be a sign of fraudulent activity.

“The 104-hour MELT program for $3,500 works out to $33 per training hour. I can barely find an instructor alone for less than that amount. What about purchasing, repairing, maintaining vehicles? Fuel, office and yard rental fees, insurance, taxes, administrative costs?”

Ramandeep Singh, a driving school owner said it costs about $4,000 to train a student, so $3,500 will not even cover expenses. He said instructors are paid between $25 to $30 per hour.

The Auditor General of Ontario admonished the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) in an audit released in December 2021, saying the ministry cannot effectively confirm instructor qualifications in private career colleges providing commercial truck driving programs.

“We found that the ministry inspectors and investigators cannot easily verify that instructors in the private career colleges providing commercial truck driving programs meet the standard of having a Class A licence for at least five years partly due to a lack of clarity on the type of documents each college should have available to meet Ministry of Transportation (MTO) standards,” the audit said.

The MCU said, with respect to oversight of commercial truck driver training programs, it is actively implementing its registration, inspection, and investigation regime to ensure compliance with legislation and training standards across private career colleges, including those that offer commercial Class A trucking programs.

“Private career colleges, including those offering commercial Class A trucking programs, are subject to routine inspections, which can lead to more in-depth investigations depending on the findings. The ministry is implementing a risk-based approach to prioritize inspections across private career colleges, including those that offer commercial truck driver training programs,” said James Tinajero, issues management and media relations spokesman for MCU.

Brian Patterson, president, and CEO of Ontario Safety League wants the Canada Revenue Agency to audit shady schools. He claims some are earning millions of dollars a year. (Photo: Leo Barros)

Brian Patterson, president, and CEO of Ontario Safety League said the ministers of MCU and MTO agreed two years ago on a joint task force involving MTO inspectors and MCU auditors. “Nothing has been accomplished,” he said.

The MTO in a statement said the province’s MELT requirements are among the highest safety standards in North America. The ministry is currently monitoring and evaluating MELT for Class A to assess its impact on road safety and the trucking industry as a whole.

VanderZwaag said the GTA is rife with stories of schools not running properly, and it is hard to dismiss the rumors with limited oversight.

One school in Mississauga has a sign outside its office offering training for $3,500. A call to the school revealed training would be held over five weeks — a week of online classes and four weeks of practical training in the yard and on the road. Training would include the 108-hour MELT program, they said.

Another school advertised classes for $3,900 but when contacted said the promotion had expired. It is now offering a five-week course for $4,500 and it includes two road tests.

People who obtained their A/Z licence years ago, maybe drove a few months and never touched a truck’s steering wheel after that, are now looking for jobs as instructors.

Rupinder Kamboj, a driving school owner says they must provide verifiable experience when applying for a job and prospective employers should be able to confirm the information from previous employers.

VanderZwaag says the trucking industry needs to be more involved. They are the ultimate beneficiaries if the program works or victims if it does not.

A sign advertising truck driver training in Mississauga, Ont. (Photo: Leo Barros)

The OSL’s Patterson says there are schools with five trucks that have 1,500 students enrolled per year. “If they charge $4,000 per student, that is $6 million in revenue. Canada Revenue Agency should take a look at these schools,” he says.

A certified air brake trainer who did not want to be identified said the MCU has the same inspector for different types of private colleges. An inspector who checks on a hair or skin-care academy also inspects truck driving schools. He said there are no specialists and if the paperwork is correct, they won’t find anything wrong.

MCU’s Tinajero said the ministry conducts comprehensive independent investigations, and in instances of non-compliance, the Superintendent of Private Career Colleges pursues enforcement measures, ranging from compliance orders and financial penalties, to suspending or revoking registrations.

Students undergo pre-trip inspection training at Richards Driving School’s yard in Mississauga, Ont. (Photo: Leo Barros)

Tinajero said the ministry will also work to develop processes to ensure that private career colleges employ qualified instructors to deliver approved vocational programs and validate that their records are complete. The ministry is also engaging with MTO as it reviews MELT for commercial truck driver training programs.

The MTO said it is “constantly monitoring and reviewing its policies and programs and appreciates feedback, to help identify and recognize any action that will improve road safety and/or reduce burden on individuals as the safety and welfare of all is our top priority. MTO is currently in consultation with its road safety partners to address commercial vehicle safety, the MELT program, including education, training and technology as part of a strategy to address road safety issues.”

Richards Driving School’s Rogowski thinks MELT is a great idea but argues it is not being administered properly. He says raids would be helpful. As with OSL’s secret shoppers who attend air brake programs, MTO could send their personnel to attend MELT programs at driving schools, he suggests. “It is probably the most effective way to weed out the bad operators.”

By Leo Barros

  • This story has been updated.