LEARNER drivers may enjoy more instruction choice if the Government adopts a plan to encourage more off-road driving schools. The Transport Department is looking at issuing licences specified 'For Driving School Only' to 27 instructors recently sacked by the Hong Kong School of Motoring (HKSM), the only off-road driving school in the territory, which could lead to more competition. Representatives of the 27 instructors, who were made redundant last week due to a drop in student numbers, met transport officials yesterday. Lau Siu-hung said officials refused to issue them private instructor licences. However, they agreed to consider the instructors' request for a special licence restricted to driving schools, said Mr Lau, and asked them for proposals. It is believed the increasing cost of buying and maintaining a car has, in part, led to fewer learners, with the Transport Department reporting the number of test forms sold dropping from 216,644 in 1993 to 203,231 last year. The HKSM runs off-road lessons at its centres in Yuen Long, Sha Tin and Wong Chuk Hang. It has about 40 per cent of the learner driver market, competing with private instructors who take learners on the streets. Although it charges about $185 an hour, compared to $120 for private instructors, HKSM students can normally take driving tests three months sooner. The Government has been criticised for allowing the school to monopolise the market. Since the sacked instructors' licences were restricted to employment with the HKSM, they are not be able to give private lessons. Mr Lau said their only choice would be to operate their own driving schools if they could get the special licences. 'We've been working in the HKSM for many years and we've learnt the way of running a similar school. 'We can simplify the operation and run it on a smaller scale, say, with fewer managers and smaller land for off-road driving lessons,' he said. The Consumer Council's deputy chief executive, Li Kai-ming, said competition would lower prices and raise quality. He said the Government should help operators get the necessary land. 'Learning to drive is also a kind of vocational training and therefore people who want to provide the training should be given assistance by the Government.'