Driving test delay claims investigated

THE driving instruction business is to be investigated by the Consumer Council to find out whether or not learner drivers are getting a raw deal.

The Hong Kong Driving Instruction Club, which represents most of the private instructors on Hong Kong Island, claims learner drivers are being forced to wait up to nine months for a test or shell out more money for a shorter wait at the Hong Kong School of Motoring (HKSM).

After receiving some complaints about the business, the Consumer Council says it would look into the trade next year.

''We will be looking to see if there is enough competition in the business because that is the best guarantee of quality of service and fair pricing,'' a council spokesman said.

HKSM is the only off-street driving school in the territory, with about 40 per cent share of the market.

The spokesman added: ''A large share of the market is not necessarily detrimental to the interests of consumers and there is no evidence to suggest that is the case with the driving instruction business.

''But we are concerned that a concentration of power in the market place might affect consumers' choice and the price level.'' Representatives of the territory's 1,000 private instructors have met the Transport Department to demand a cut in the preferential treatment in test waiting time given to HKSM.

Raymond Fung Hoi-yin, chairman of the Hong Kong Driving Instruction Club, said: ''The difference in test waiting times between private instructors and HKSM is far too big and something needs to be done to give people more choice.

''If people want a quicker test date they have to go to HKSM and pay more money.

''We can accept HKSM having a 10 to 20 per cent shorter test waiting time but more than that is just not fair to instructors or learner drivers.'' HKSM charges $140 per hour and have an average test waiting time of three months, while students of private instructors pay about $110 per hour but have to wait up to nine months for a test.

Mr Fung claimed the standard of teaching with private instructors was also much higher.

Private instructors say 75 per cent of their students pass the test first time compared with only 33 per cent at HKSM.

But HKSM general manager, Peter Smith, denied the driving school over-charged for lessons.

Mr Smith said: ''We do charge more than private instructors because an off-street driving school has much higher overheads, but I still believe we offer value for money.

The Transport Department's policy is to encourage off-street driving schools to ease traffic congestion.

In return for supporting government policy HKSM gets preferential treatment in the form of shorter test waiting times.

But despite HKSM being the only off-street driving instruction business in Hong Kong, the Transport Department says the question of a monopoly does not arise because it only controls 40 per cent of the market.