Driving instructors demand South Tyneside's test centre is reopened citing over £500 average extra cost for learners
Driving instructors say the closure of South Tyneside’s test centre has on average resulted in learner drivers having to pay over £500 more to sit their tests.
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) closed South Tyneside’s test centre in April 2022 with clients and instructors now expected to take tests at Sunderland’s testing centre.
The announcement led to a campaign by driving instructors for a U-turn on the decision.
Ten months on, following research carried out by the Save Our Test Centre group, including a survey of around 40 of the borough’s driving schools, campaign leader Vikki Holt says the group’s fears have come to fruition.
Vikki, 52, who owns Top Gun Driving School, said: “The DVSA said all we need to do is give four hours of tuition driving on the roads around the test centre in Sunderland where clients are going to be examined.
"However, we are client led and if people are going to be tested in Sunderland they want to practice in Sunderland. To allow for travel time to and from Sunderland we are now generally running one-and-a-half hour lessons rather than the traditional one hour lesson.
"The survey results showed learners were therefore taking on average 17-and-a-half more additional hours of tuition. With lesson prices having increased on average by £4, to £30 per lesson, this means it’s costing on average over £500 more for learner drivers to sit their tests.
"It’s also making it more difficult for South Tyneside residents to get lessons. From a purely business perspective, if I have prospective clients from South Shields and Sunderland, it now makes more financial sense to go with the person in Sunderland.”
The group said journeys between South Tyneside and Sunderland have resulted in increased pollution with an “estimated 1,231,342,312 grams of carbon being emitted”.
With around 120 additional instructors now operating in Sunderland, the group have also cited high levels of congestion around the test centre.
Sherburn SOM owner Jonathan Wilkinson, 47, said: “Congestion around the centre is horrendous and this is not a great situation for people who are often already nervous to start their tests.
"There have been times I’ve been sat in traffic for 45 minutes and the lesson is almost gone.
"We’ve even been told by the test centre not to use certain roads and car parks due to levels of congestion. Waiting times for tests are currently around four months.”
The instructors gathered outside the boarded-up test centre demanding the DVSA reverse its decision.
Vikki said: “I would urge the DVSA to reopen the South Tyneside test centre to reduce CO2 emissions and reduce the cost for people to get through their tests at a time when they are already dealing with the cost of living crisis.”
It’s a sentiment shared by South Tyneside Councillor Geraldine Kilgour, who was also at the demonstration.
Cllr Kilgour said: “I’ve always been against this closure. As well as the environmental impact from increased emissions, the increased costs are a massive barrier for people wanting to learn to drive. There has always been a test centre in South Tyneside and it’s an absolute disgrace it has been closed.
"We demand it is reopened and there is an investigation into why it was closed in the first place.”
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However, the DVSA have refuted the need for South Tyneside learners to travel to Sunderland to practice on the roads where they are likely to be tested.
Director of Operations North Peter Hearn said: “We don’t recognise or accept the figures presented. There’s no need for learners to practice driving near a test centre that increases journeys and costs.
"Candidates should be able to drive safely on all types of road before taking their test, rather than simply being taught driving test centre routes they’re unlikely to drive on again.
“The decision to close South Tyneside’s test centre was made as the Sunderland centre is less than six miles away where the same services have been relocated and there’s no reduction in the number of tests available for candidates.
“As with all driving test centres, we keep local traffic under review and there’s no evidence of congestion impacting on the delivery of tests. The current pass rate at Sunderland is higher than the national average.”