CALGARY -- As many Albertans have vented frustration at delays to book a road test to obtain a drivers licence, the government has announced that the system will be changed in December from a public to private system.

At that time Class 4, 5 or 6 tests can be booked through a local registry agent for a time slot in early 2021 to address backlog.

“I know these changes will have significant impact on driver examiners who currently work for the government, but I want to assure all of the driver examiners and all Albertans these decisions were made with care and with caution,” said Transportation Minister Ric McIver in an announcement on Thursday.

Private examiners will take on 85 per cent of Alberta’s evaluations while government-employed testers will continue to administer tests for commercial truckers and bus drivers (Class 1, 2 and 3).

McIver also told reporters that there were 77 driver examiners in the province at the change of government from NDP to UCP, and now there are 180.

As well, he says the backlog increased in the pandemic with the shutdown of testing between March and June.

“Unfortunately the NDP nationalized the driver test system, creating chronic wait times for Albertans and chasing away 50 per cent of Alberta’s examiners. We’re cleaning up their mess,” said McKenzie Kibler, press secretary for the Minster of Alberta Transportation.

NDP Transportation Critic Rod Loyola issued a rebuttal statement on Thursday which reads:

Albertans deserve timely access to competent driver testing at a reasonable price. Our NDP government inherited a Conservative driver testing system that was broken. It cost Albertans too much and offered no protections against examiners behaving inappropriately or repeatedly failing new drivers in order to bill them for several tests. We drove down costs and improved service levels, particularly in rural Alberta. In 2019, the new UCP Minister of Transportation misled Albertans and said the number of examiners was down across the province when the truth is full-time equivalent capacity was up. The UCP government failed to plan appropriately when they shut down testing due to COVID-19, and now their backlog is out of control.

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Parents of teenagers looking to book a Class 5 road test have told CTV News they are frustrated with the central booking system.

“I don’t care who began the issue, what I’m worried about is who is managing it now and what they are doing to fix it,” said Joanne Dashney, whose daughter did not pass in September and needs to book for a second try.

Dashney says she has had a glimmer of hope to find appointments when she visits the government website on Tuesdays at midnight, but suitable options for her daughter are scarce.

“It is nearly impossible to find any openings in the schedule.”

Kurt Keller and his wife and even a few friends have been trying to book online for their teenage daughter, in hopes that setting a location within a 100-kilometre radius would broaden their search.

“It’s been extremely frustrating, we are trying to be persistent,” said Keller.

His daughter turns 16 next month.

“We’re trying to anticipate getting her on the road, so we would like a firm date instead of having a two-day, last-minute notice.”

Craig Couillard, the president of the Association of Alberta Registry Agents, said his organization would be implementing a hub-and-spoke model in which agents in larger urban centres support more rural registries by supplying road tests.

He, too, promised the change would reduce wait times and improve customer experience.

Online bookings will begin Dec. 1 for tests starting Jan. 5.

As of Oct. 22, there were 132 government and 56 contracted driver examiners available for road tests in Alberta.

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In September 2020, the province says it completed 13,100 Class 4 to 6 road tests in the province, taking into account a half-hour delay for each test in order to abide by the current COVID-19 protocols.

During that 30 minutes, Kibler says driver examiners go through a number of health protocols in order to protect from COVID-19 infection.

"Health protocols required for road tests include driver examiners conducting health screening questions with examinees, requiring drivers to sanitize their vehicles and requiring the wearing of PPE."

He adds part of the process is to apply a santizing solvent to the seat and high-touch surfaces that must remain undisturbed for 10 minutes before the test begins. Once the test is over, the whole process is repeated.

"All high touch surfaces must be sanitized again in the event that the examiner had COVID-19."

In 2019, the province completed 13,700 tests during the month of September.