Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)

WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY 2001

MR D BIZLEY, MR P ATKINSON AND MR K CAMERON

Chairman

  1. Good afternoon, gentlemen. May I welcome you most warmly and ask you to identify yourselves?
  (Mr Atkinson) Good afternoon. My name is Paul Atkinson. I am the Managing Director of BSM.
  (Mr Bizley) Good afternoon. I am David Bizley. I am Technical Director of RAC motoring services.
  (Mr Cameron) Good afternoon. Keith Cameron, Head of Road Safety for BSM.

  2. Do you have any general comments you would like to make as an opening statement or are you quite happy to go to questions?
  (Mr Atkinson) We are very happy to take questions.

  3. What reasons have been given by the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) for the rise in the cost of the practical driving test since 1990?
  (Mr Atkinson) Our understanding is that the driving test fee is to support the total operation of the Agency and that it is now a trading fund account rather than a direct support agency. During a period of time when there has been a need for the Agency to invest in modernising its booking systems, the driving test fee has risen to support the increased investment which the Agency has undertaken.

  4. How much is the fee for the theory test now?
  (Mr Atkinson) Fifteen pounds.

  5. Has the Agency's target of keeping average fee increases below RPI restricted fee rises in the last two or three years?
  (Mr Atkinson) Over the last two or three years, yes, that has been the case. They have been under a cap to maintain increases in the practical test fee, at rates of about three to four per cent is my understanding. They have achieved that. However, if one looks back over a period slightly earlier than the last three or four years—

  6. What are we talking about? Five years, ten years?
  (Mr Atkinson) The last ten years in the written evidence we have presented suggests that the practical test fee has gone up 88.4 per cent compared with retail price increase of 33 per cent over that same ten-year period. Whilst over the last three or four years the increase in fees has been of the order of three or four per cent, earlier than that they had been very much greater.

  7. Have you as an organisation made representations on this point?
  (Mr Atkinson) We make a representation each time we are consulted on the rise in driving test fees. In the recent past we have accepted that the rises are very reasonable.

  8. What evidence is there that the cost of the driving test is discouraging drivers on lower incomes from taking the test?
  (Mr Atkinson) It is fair to say that BSM is a premium product for learning to drive. We are probably at the higher end.

Mr Bennett

  9. You are too expensive for people on low incomes.
  (Mr Atkinson) I was suggesting that we are catering for a marketplace and perhaps those individuals on lower incomes are not necessarily going to be supporters of BSM. Therefore it is a bit difficult for us to give you empirical evidence on that. We do have an anecdotal belief that it is a deterrent, that rises in driving test fees are deterring people.

Chairman

  10. You personally do not have any experience of it in your organisation.
  (Mr Atkinson) Yes, our organisations cannot empirically give you that information.

Mr Donohoe

  11. What is the average number of lessons that a pupil of yours takes before sitting the driving test?
  (Mr Atkinson) The average number of lessons is 26.

  12. What does it cost per lesson?
  (Mr Atkinson) The cost per lesson varies between £17.50 up to over £20.

  13. The driving test cost is minuscule in comparison with that cost.
  (Mr Atkinson) The driving test is a 40-minute test and costs £36.75 compared with a one-hour lessons of £20.

  14. If you tally up the cost of learning to drive is your cost not the cost of the driving test.
  (Mr Atkinson) It is a significant investment.

  Chairman: If you want to intervene, gentlemen, please do. As long as you agree I shall take silence to be happy consent.

Mr O'Brien

  15. In what ways have the Driving Standards Agency and Highways Agency sought to modernise their activities to benefit the customer? Is there evidence that the agencies follow best practice?
  (Mr Cameron) As far as the Driving Standards Agency is concerned, they have made fairly large strides to improve, particularly with computerisation. This is particularly evident with regard to theory testing, which has been an extremely successful operation. Unfortunately the computerisation of the booking of tests for ordinary L-tests has been very poor.

  16. Does that apply also to the Highways Agency?
  (Mr Bizley) May I offer some comments on the Highways Agency? We were certainly invited recently to the stakeholders' seminar in October when we took this as a very positive step forward. However, it is relatively early days for us to make a judgement on the issue.

  17. Is it apparent that the objectives of the Driving Standards Agency and the Highways Agency match those of the Department in attempting to improve transport safety, reduce traffic congestion, reduce the impact of transport on the environment and provide better customer service?
  (Mr Atkinson) We can concur that that is their desire. I am not entirely convinced—

  18. Is it working in practice?
  (Mr Atkinson) In practice in certain aspects yes. On the booking of a practical driving test I do not believe that the Agency has achieved the objective of looking after the customer.

  19. What about the hazard perception under the Driving Standards Agency's programme?
  (Mr Atkinson) We now have a commitment to introduce hazard perception as part of the theory test for the autumn of 2002 and we would have welcomed an earlier introduction but, accepting that the process is now in train and a date now firm in the diary, we are happy to welcome that progress.


 
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