OPINION | Mbalula wants to roll out disastrous online licence system across SA, but it won't work

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Earlier in November, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula announced the online booking system for driving licences used in Gauteng. The Eastern Cape proves it could be rolled out nationally to deal with the driving licence renewal backlog.

The South African Institute of Driving Instructors' managing director Robert Chandler says once again we see a total failure to actually identify and address the dismal situation regarding our driving license system. 

According to a report by Business Tech, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula claimed the online licence booking system is ready to be implemented nationally, when he and ministers in the economics cluster, responded to questions in the National Assembly last month. 

The publication reported Mbalula as saying: "The online booking system that was initially introduced in Gauteng, currently managed by RTMC (Road Traffic Management Corporation), on behalf of Gauteng, has provided a good basis for the RTMC to introduce a bouquet of online services across the country."

OPINION | How government can fix the driving licence mess right now: Make cards valid for 10 years

Our Minister consistently receives misinformation regarding the NATIS system, which is seriously detrimental to the provision of a professional and efficient driving license system that serves our community.

He is, unfortunately, making decisions based on misinformation from the NATIS system and, in particular, the learners and driving license online booking system has had a devastating effect on the economic wellbeing of our fellow South Africans. Businesses and individuals alike have been affected: 

1. Driving schools:
a) Gauteng – the Crown Jewel of efficiency, according to the Minister has seen more than 500 driving schools experiencing hardship due to the inability of students to obtain bookings. Many instructors have left the industry. 
b) Nelson Mandela Bay have recently (March 2021) rolled out an online booking system, and the public and businesses are experiencing similar problems. 

2. Road and Public Transport Industry are both being exposed to drivers who cannot obtain their professional category uPrDP's or such PrDP's are delayed due to backlog issues.

The NATIS system is contributing to the hardship that we are facing. 

Contrary to the Minister's claim that "the online booking system for driving licences that was initially introduced in Gauteng has provided a basis for it to be rolled out nationally to deal with the license renewal backlog", I wish to refresh our memory: 

In late August 2021, the Minister promulgated an additional extension to renew the expired driving licence cards into law. 

This was extended to the end of March 2022. At this time, the following figures were provided by the Minister: 

1. The Minister claimed that 1.2 million expired driving license cards were still to be renewed, i.e. An average of 174 428 per month 

2. The RTMC had a stated production backlog of 500 000 driving licence cards. 

Renewals already applied for yet awaiting printing. Basic arithmetic sets this at a minimum total production capacity requirement of an average of 341 000 cards being printed per month. 

Wheels24 readers repeatedly inform us that they find it impossible to book any slots on the online Natis system for driving licence appointments. What are your thoughts on Mbalula wanting to implement this failing system across South Africa? Please emails us here, or share your thoughts in the comments section below.

However, these figures do not factor in new driving licence cards resulting from: 

1. Driving licence tests passed that require the first-time issue of driving licence cards. We have 408 DLTCs in the country. 
2. Replacement cards for lost, stolen or defaced cards, or 
3. The conversion of and issue of DLC for replacement/substitution of foreign driving licences etc. 

As I do not have the figures for the applications mentioned above, I am sure we can realistically assume that this figure is somewhat higher than the 341 000 claimed. 

Considering the above, we must take into account: 

1. The card production equipment was put into operation in 1998, and to the best of my knowledge, I have not seen or heard of any significant upgrade or renewal of equipment taking place. 

2. If my assumption is correct ( I am very sure it is), the same Card Production System handed over by the original contractor is being used. 

3. The system was designed to have a maximum production rate of between 6000 to 7000 cards per day. i.e. maximum operational output per month lies at 180 000 to 210 000 cards per month 

4. Simple arithmetic tells me we have a shortfall of 131 000 driving licence cards not being produced per month. 

5. FACT: If we continue along the current route, we are on the way to failing. 

In closing, I am going to make a prediction: 

The Road Traffic Management Corporation will take a bold step and ramp up production on old antiquated equipment to deliver these outstanding cards. 

The Card Production system is going to implode. The problem will further be compounded by the fact that the equipment is sourced from France, and as such, Treasury approval will be required to contract the supplier to fix the problem. 

I suspect that a service level agreement does not exist between the RTMC and the OEM as this was held by the first contractor. 

This is a developing story; watch out for our second instalment next week...

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