Wānaka struggling with lack of access to driver licence testing

by Lauren Pattemore - Apr 30, 2024

Wānaka residents are tired of long waits to sit a theory test for a learner licence and having to travel out of town to be tested behind the wheel to move onto a restricted licence.

Community Networks/LINK manager Kate Murray tells Crux the current situation of needing to drive to Queenstown or Alexandra for a driving test is a barrier for people to get their licence because of both the cost to get there and the time needed off work.

Compounding the issue, slots for the practical driving tests in both locations are currently booked out for months in advance.

This morning, the earliest available booking in Queenstown was at 8.30am on June 11, then there was nothing else on offer until July 9, 70 days away.

Over in Alexandra, the testing service is completely booked out for the next two months, with the earliest booking available on July 10, 71 days away.

The long waits are not unique - RNZ this morning reported the average wait time for a driving test is 45 days. An Auckland-based driving instructor told the national broadcaster it was their view the removal of fees for re-sitting tests was the cause of the long wait times.

At a Wānaka Chamber of Commerce breakfast yesterday with Waitaki MP Miles Anderson, the lack of options locally was raised as an issue by Hāwea Community Association chair Cherilyn Walthew.

Ms Walthew says while the New Zealand Automobile Association (AA) holds a mobile clinic in town on Mondays and Tuesdays a few times a month, it is not enough.

She says the wait to be seen at the AA service can be "half a day".

Her son, who works on Mondays and Tuesdays took several months to sit his learner's test, and she says the long lines meant he wasn't able to be seen during a lunch break. 

It is her view there are some "easy solutions", and they include offering more service times, allowing people to book appointments, or allowing another business to offer driver licensing services locally. 

She says in the Upper Clutha it is important for young people to have the option to obtain a driver's licences because there is no public transport. 

At yesterday's business breakfast event, Mr Anderson empathised with those who voiced their concerns on the issue, and agreed it's something that needs to change, and he committed to looking into it.

A spokesperson for the AA says it has recently upped its offerings in Wānaka, adding extra dates to its mobile services, but still warns people not to expect instant availability.

"While we have increased services as demand grows, we ask people to plan for a short wait time as our staff serve your growing community."

The spokesperson says they will work with the mobile team to monitor demand, noting that nationally they have experienced an unprecedented demand for driver licencing services.

The AA has provided Crux with a brochure of its availability in Wānaka until August. 

AA's availability in Wānaka until August 2024.

Main image: Cars line up at Queenstown VTNZ, where Wānaka residents can sit practical driving tests.

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