Driving test centres across Tayside and Fife could be opened for longer hours, six days a week, in a bid to tackle a backlog of theory and practical driving tests.
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), which is responsible for overseeing all driving-related testing, is considering the move after it emerged people in Fife are currently being asked to go as far afield as Aberdeen and Carlisle to sit their theory tests.
Due to physical distancing restrictions, the DVSA has admitted it has been unable to increase the number of desks for theory tests currently provided within Scottish test centres.
Candidates based in Fife, Angus and Perthshire have been able to access “occasional” sites at Leven, Brechin and Pitlochry respectively, with the option to travel to larger permanent sites in Dundee, Edinburgh, Stirling, Aberdeen and Inverness.
But the permanent sites are now facing long waiting lists due to growing demand.
Lucas Gilchrist, 17, from Dundee, is one of hundreds who have been left in limbo and has been forced to book a theory test in Aberdeen.
“I had my theory test booked in January for around about mid-month, but that got cancelled,” he said.
“I had to rebook but I couldn’t get any closer to Dundee because the backlog was so bad.
“I’ve had to reschedule for Aberdeen in March, but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen either.
“It’s fine for now and I understand why there is a backlog, but it’s also annoying because I’m ready to sit my test but can’t book one until I’ve done the theory test.
“It is really frustrating.”
With the backlog growing and people finding it increasingly difficult to book slots, Mid Scotland and Fife Labour MSP Alex Rowley has called on the DVSA to increase capacity urgently.
Mr Rowley said: “Even before Covid-19 there was a question about capacity for sitting the theory test with Fife having one centre in Leven, but given the massive backlogs there is a need for an increase in availability.
“I understand there are options for increasing capacity and I am calling on all Fife politicians to work together to persuade this authority to increase the capacity locally.”
In a letter to Mr Rowley, new DVSA chief executive Loveday Ryder conceded that theory tests – when they do get back up and running – will not resume at full capacity due to physical distancing rules, although various options have been explored, such as extending opening and closing times where possible and extending the booking window from three months to four months to give candidates more choice of available dates.
Anyone who has passed the theory test but has not passed the driving test within two years will have to re-sit the theory test.
Lower Largo man Bruce Smith is just one of many who are not happy with the current situation.
“The Leven option is only available one day every two months and is classed as a satellite test centre,” he said.
“Fife has a population of 371,910 which I would regard qualifies for its own test centre, and the replies from DVSA have been disgraceful, blaming Covid-19 even though it’s been like this for years.
“Unless MSPs fight for what’s right for Fife this will go on and on forcing Fife people to travel far and wide for a test.”
A DVSA spokesperson said: “We know the pandemic has been incredibly hard for learners, and we appreciate their patience.
“We’re working hard to provide as many theory tests as possible for people in Tayside and Fife, and we are exploring ways to increase capacity in Scotland, including extending centre opening times and centres opening as often as six days a week.”