Addressing the backlog of smart licenses, a challenge for the transport department
When 22-year-old Saurav Pokharel from Gothatar, Kathmandu completed the online driver’s license application form in March 2021, he was surprised to see that his written exam date was assigned to him in January 2022.
Pokharel was already frustrated when he learned that he would have to wait over 10 months just to take the written exams. His concern was further heightened as the Ministry of Transport Management ceased from April 29 at midnight to accept online applications citing the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. This could mean that the scheduled review date could be postponed further.
“I have no idea when services will resume and when will I be able to sit for the trial,” said Pokharel, who now uses public transport to get to his job in Baneshwar from Mulpani.
“My brother bought me a used scooter because traveling by public transport is risky during the pandemic, but I couldn’t use it because I don’t have a driver’s license,” Pokharel said.
The banning orders were imposed in the three districts of the Kathmandu Valley from April 29 amid a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases, after which the department also shut down its services. But as authorities gradually lift restrictions, the department has yet to start accepting online applications and it has affected thousands of people like Pokharel who are desperate for their written and first-instance exams.
According to Dr Loknath Bhusal, spokesperson for the Department of Transportation Management, online applications will only be accepted when the Covid-19 Crisis Management Center recommends that Cabinet authorize the review process.
“We already have over 700,000 applicants waiting for their trial dates, so we don’t want more people in the queue,” Bhusal said. “Driver’s license exams have been placed in the school / college category. We will only be able to resume acceptance of applications after the government reopens schools and colleges. “
Even last year, on March 24, the department halted all services after a nationwide lockdown was imposed. The department resumed service after nine months on December 29.
For the Department of Transportation Management, clearing the backlog has always been a big challenge. There are still more than 600,000 smart licenses to print, officials said.
The department had tried different ways to clear the backlog.
On October 23, 2018, the department awarded a contract to Malika Incorporated to print more than 500,000 pending licenses, but the company was only able to print 360,000 cards during its contract period.
In July 2019, the department purchased its own printer to meet the demand for a driver’s license. Yet he was unable to provide licenses on time.
According to Bhusal, the reason for the huge backlog is that the ministry decided in 2015 to replace paper licenses with smart licenses. This was a huge technological change which brought many challenges.
“We had to import the cards for licenses and a new printer and the process was taking a long time, resulting in a huge backlog of applications,” Bhusal said. “In addition, the number of applicants is very high and as we no longer have permit cards, we were unable to print any permits during the blackout period. “
According to department officials, they have requested 1.4 million cards from their French supplier.
However, the cards have not yet arrived, according to Bhusal.
“Once we receive the cards, we will start printing the licenses,” Bhusal added.
Amid the chaos and delays in service delivery, the ministry also changed the permit review criteria.
Officials said the department would post a set of 500 to 1,000 questions on its website and that the test questions would be asked from the same set.
In the driving test, no one will fail for making minor mistakes, as in the past. Likewise, the department proposed a scoring system for the test.
“On the full score of 100, those who get 60 will be entitled to a driver’s license. By driving according to the figure-of-eight pattern, even if the candidate fails to complete the figure but meets other criteria and has obtained the passing grade, he or she is eligible for a driver’s license, ”Bhusal said.
But Pokharel believes that since the exams have been made easier, more people will apply and it might take longer to get the driver’s license.
“The authorities were unable to provide licenses even when the test exam was difficult. Now that the exam is made easier, more people will take the test and authorities will struggle to keep up with the demand. “
Smart licenses were first issued in December 2015.