Strike runs truck-driving schools off road

With driver exam centres closed and talks stalled, private instructors say they’re losing big financially.

Some Toronto-area truck driving schools say their business is being run off the road by the 25-day provincial driving examiners’ strike.

"I’ve had to park my trucks," said Avi Yanko, who runs the S&A Sprint Driving School on Bathurst St. near Steeles.

The dispute between the examiners’ union and the company that runs the provincial test centres stalled again Sunday, after a return last week to the bargaining table with a provincial mediator.

The strike, which continues to dash the aspirations of teens around the province anxious to hold the family car keys, is also adding to the financial anxiety of private instructors who charge thousands to train commercial drivers.

Although the Ministry of Transportation is extending licences and permits for the duration of the strike, new applications are on hold until the test centres reopen.

That is discouraging new students from enrolling in driving courses, says Yanko, whose school charges $460 to $4,500 for heavy vehicle instruction.

The owner of three trucks and a bus says declining enrolment has prompted him to send instructors home and left him struggling to hang on to office staff because Ontario’s 56 DriveTest centres are closed.

At All Wheels Driver Training in North York, owner Juan Hernandez said: "The Minister of Transportation needs to step in and say, `You are licensed to run this business.’"

All Wheels, which usually trains about 35 students a month, is down to 15 this month.

The situation also is dire at ABS Training in Mississauga, which offers air-brake classes, said teacher Harpinder Marahar.

Although enrolment has fallen at Young Drivers of Canada, it was after a record-breaking August, said president Paul Christianson.

"There’s no question there will be schools out there who have seen a drop in enrolment," said Paul Dalglish, managing director of DriveTest.

He said the union wants to stop the company from using supervisors to administer driving tests in smaller centres and to limit its use of part-time workers.