Mechanics have been recruited from Spain and the Philippines in a bid to address a backlog of vehicle tests in Ireland, industry officials have said.
The head of the Road Safety Authority (RSA) and the company which run the tests apologised for the waits, currently an average of 25 days compared with an average of less than 12 days before the pandemic.
RSA chief executive Sam Waide and Mark Synnott, managing director of Applus Ireland, appeared before the Oireachtas Transport Committee on Wednesday.
Mr Waide said customers for vehicle and driving tests are not getting the level of service that they want to deliver and that they are working to remedy the situation.
“I want to apologise for any inconvenience caused and I want to assure everyone that we are working hard to rectify them,” he told the committee.
In terms of the National Car Testing Service (NCTS), Mr Waide described demand and capacity issues.
“Covid caused significant staff absenteeism levels at test centres and in the call centre,” he said.
“There were also very high levels of customer no-shows and late cancellations, reduced availability of new cars has meant there are more older cars in the Irish fleet. This means there are circa 1.5 million cars to be tested at NCTS this year.”
Outside the pandemic, Mr Waide said there have also been difficulty in recruiting and retaining vehicle inspectors.
He said they hope to return to normal service levels by June.
In terms of driving tests, he described an increase in demand for tests at the same time as a reduced workforce.
He said there are 47,364 learners waiting to sit a driving test and a 19-week national average waiting time for an appointment. The target waiting time is 10 weeks.
He said the RSA is currently providing an average of 4,000 tests per week, up from 3,000 in October 2022.
“However the resource level is not enough, the current staffing level will neither reduce the backlog of driving tests nor will it meet the projected future demands for the service based on the learner permit demand,” he said.
He said beyond 2023/24 the RSA projects that a permanent pool of 170 testers will be required to meet estimated future demand.
“The message I wish to tell our customers is we are doing everything we can to return the services to normal,” he said.
Applus has the contract to provide the service at 49 test centres across the republic, with plans to open centre in five more locations.
Whilst NCTS may have lost inspectors in 2022, we recruited 124 more. Fifty-nine were hired locally, 21 were seconded from our sisters companies in Spain and 44 were recruited in the PhilippinesMark Synnott, Applus Ireland
Mr Synnott also apologised to customers and said they are working hard to address issues.
He said there are 375,000 vehicles overdue their test, around 170,000 above the norm for this time of year.
However, he said 42,000 have been tested and 204,000 have a booking.
“There are approximately 47,000 vehicles on our priority list, 14,000 are due in prior months, 10,000 are due in January and 23,000 are vehicles which are due in future months,” he said.
He said they are seeing 2,500 vehicles not showing up for their appointment each week, with a further 1,000 cancelling just before the test.
Mr Synnott said Covid had a significant impact and also described a chronic shortage of mechanics in Ireland, adding that colleagues across Europe are reporting similar issues.
He said 113 vehicle inspectors left, with some leaving for higher pay in other areas.
He said that struggling to recruit in Ireland, they have recruited inspectors from Spain and the Philippines.
“Whilst NCTS may have lost inspectors in 2022, we recruited 124 more. Fifty-nine were hired locally, 21 were seconded from our sisters companies in Spain and 44 were recruited in the Philippines,” he said.
“At the start of 2020 we had 547 vehicle inspectors, we now have 610, this allowed us to recently launch night-time testing.
“We have the highest volumes of vehicle inspectors employed in the history of NCTS, we are testing record volumes of vehicles, the next couple of months will be very challenging but we can expect a significant improvement in service delivery in quarter two, and we hope to be fully returned to normal for the start of quarter three.”
Mr Synott also highlighted a vehicle test first-time pass rate of 54% and urged that customers prepare their car for the test, and “not use the test as a diagnostic”.