Driver exam crush ahead of mandatory training

by Nicholas Camilleri

TORONTO, ON — An increasing number of would-be truck drivers are lining up for licensing tests at Ontario DriveTest centers as the province approaches a July 1 deadline to introduce Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT).

The number of appointments has increased since the beginning of 2017 and was up 20% last March when compared to the same month in 2016, an Ontario Ministry of Transportation spokesman confirms.

The surge was not unexpected, either. Extra examiners were trained, and more classified test slots had been allocated to respond to an increase in demand.

The new training standards for Class A licences will require a minimum of 103.5 hours of training with a Private Career College registered with the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, an Ontario College of Applied Arts and Technology, or recognized authorities like carriers with training programs under the Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s Driver Certification Program.

It’s not just DriveTest centers that have noticed higher volumes of applicants at DriveTest centers, either. Ed Popkie, president of the Fifth Wheel Training Institute, says his school has recently struggled to book exam times for students.

 “Testing centers that we work with are busier with people who have not gone to formal training and who have learned or gotten lessons either on the job or in the evenings and weekends from a friend or family member and are challenging the Class A road test,” he said. “There are fewer spots available and there is a lot more activity with different configurations and companies bringing trucks and trailers to the DriveTest centers in Ontario.”

Ontario will be the first province to implement such a training standard, released last September. Training schools had until April 1 to develop and implement compliant programs that had to be evaluated by third-party inspectors on behalf of the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.

“[MELT] is something we support,” said Popkie, adding that training by a family or friend won’t necessarily cover the topics needed to become a safe and professional truck driver. “The standard that ended up being adopted by the [Ontario ministry] is actually somewhat less than the standard than what we’ve been living with as a private career college for many years.”

For example, one of their Class AZ training programs offers 236 hours of training — more than double what’s required by MELT — and also provides prospective truckers with a mechanic assistant course and forklift certification. It has since introduced a 150-hour program built around the MELT standards.

The Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario has already been helping schools like his to prepare for MELT, he adds.

 “It’s all going to be relevant and linear. The cost per hour to run a vehicle doesn’t change if we’re twice as busy, four times as busy or if we stay the same. It costs so much per hour to run a program, to run a class or to pay for staff. So, it shouldn’t increase the costs.”

However, Popkie says other training facilities may encounter challenges.

“I won’t call them schools because they’re not schools,” said Popkie. “Those organizations will definitely have to revaluate their business model because forever they’ve offered hourly lessons — evenings and weekends or whatever you want — for not thousands of dollars but for hundreds of dollars.”

While about 9,000 Class A road tests are delivered each year, just 2,500 people went through a Private Career College, public college, or Ministry of Transportation-approved driver certification program in 2014, he says.

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