If you’ve not been living under a rock for the last eight years, you cannot have failed to notice that as of yesterday all candidates for the motorcycle test will have to undertake an EU-mandated compulsory off-road element before venturing onto the roads with the examiner in hot pursuit for the on-road element of the bike test.
Or rather, there is every chance that they won’t be taking any bike test at all!
It’s long been recognised that many riders will have to make unfeasibly long journeys to the test centres, but with the new booking system in place for several weeks on the lead up to the new three part test, it seems it’s already in chaos, with some areas apparently having “part three” on-road test availablity but no “part two” off-road test availability, without which the on-road test can’t go ahead.
The issue was being hotly debated in Parliament last Wednesday.
Mark Williams (Lib Dem MP for Ceredigion) reported that as late as the week before last, Rider’s Edge, which operates from the Royal Welsh showground in Builth Wells, had been unable to book a single off-road test under the new rules, just two weeks before the new test was due to go live.
Motorcycle trainers up and down the country are furious that the DSA have failed to address the widely predicted problems they were likely to face from the introduction of the new tests.
The DSA originally proposed to introduce the new test last September but after industry representation delayed the launch by six months because only 38 of the planned 66 multi-purpose test centres (MPTCs) were ready.
Paul Clark (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport) said in response to questioning in Parliament last week that 66 sites are now available, but on further examination it appears that only six new MPTCs have been added, with the remaining test locations being either temporary sites or weekend-only centres.
The DSA claim that 88% of the population are within 45 minutes’ ride of a testing facility. Leaving aside the fact that the DSA’s estimate of time versus distance is hopelessly optimistic, that still leaves 12% (or to put it another way, over 7 million people) who aren’t within the 45 minute cut off. And many of those people are hours from the nearest centre.
Mark Williams further pointed out that there will be no MPTC in Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire or Powys, a huge area of the country.
Steve Manning, of Advanced Rider Training near Crawley in West Sussex, is quoted on the BBC website earlier this month as saying he is already struggling to book the new tests and he expects to lose business.
“There just aren’t enough of the promised multi-purpose test centres available to deal with the volume of tests we do.
“I would hope to do 10 to 12 module one tests a week. On average I’ve got six or seven module one tests a week, which is going to cut the availability of our courses in half.
“If people can’t get the test at the end of their training they’re not going to come and do their training with us.”
Mr Manning says he will only have one test centre within a 20-mile radius of his training school, compared with seven which he currently uses.
What’s more, there are already stories circulating on the internet about two crashes, one involving broken bones, after the very first day of the off-road exercises. I’ve not been able to find confirmation of this but I’ll update as soon as I know.
The day of the simple “get trained, pass a test” route to a full motorcycle licence might well be at an end.