As frustrated motorists continue to face long lines at the Commission d’assurance automobile du Québec, truckers fear they won’t be able to leave the province on April 1.
The provincial automobile insurance commission has faced long queues at many of its service centers since the introduction of a new online portal on February 20, which users have struggled to access due to an authentication problem.
Richard Pellerin, a self-employed truck driver based in the Mauricie region, said if he doesn’t receive his renewed registration, he will have to park his rig. Truckers transporting goods outside Quebec must be registered under what is called the International Registration Plan.
“This issue at the Automobile Insurance Board affects all of us, but specifically for our industry, it’s really the registrations that directly impact us, which expire March 31 for all of us,” Pellerin said in an interview.
The new website needed to simplify certain transactions, including renewing licenses, paying for registration and booking exams. But it turned into a major embarrassment for the board of directors, known as the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec, and for the government of the Coalition Avenir Québec.
Quebec Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault this week cut short a trip to Europe so she could return home to deal with the misconduct, announcing a grace period for expired licenses and other measures to reduce the backlog in the service centers.
But Pellerin said Thursday he had seen no signs that the situation was improving for truckers. “I really need to renew my international registration to be able to work after March 31,” he said. “Otherwise, my business will be closed until I get this official document.” Not getting it renewed could cost him $30,000 a month, he said.
Francis Rouleau, chief executive of the Quebec Association of Professional Truck Drivers, said the 150 members of his truckers’ association fear they could be hit with fines if they travel outside Quebec without renewal.
“As long as the issue persists on the board on April 1, we will likely have several drivers with traffic violations and fines who will be very upset, and this is all due to a technical glitch,” Rouleau said.
The plan announced by Guilbault calls for giving drivers whose licenses have expired in the last six weeks until June 1 to renew them. Vehicle registration certificates that were due to expire have been extended for a further 60 days. Motorists will also have more time to register new cars purchased from dealerships.
In addition, the validity of foreign driver’s licenses will be maintained until August 29, so that newcomers can apply for a Quebec-based license later.
On Monday, the board announced that it would hire 150 additional staff at its service centers and extend opening hours. Demand is high because Quebec motorists must pay each year to renew their license. In New Brunswick, a driver’s license is valid for four years, and the standard is five years in other provinces.
Guilbault, who visited a service center in Montreal on Friday, told reporters that preparations for the launch of the online portal had been botched.
“The planning work, as far as I’m concerned, wasn’t done well, so we ended up with queues that no one seems to have anticipated, but there’s also the communication aspect,” said Guilbault. “We probably haven’t done enough, and we’re learning from that.”
The auto insurance commission did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday and Friday.
Guilbault said the council is giving priority to truckers and taxi drivers. “I will in no way accept that a trucker cannot work from March 31 or April 1 because he could not be served,” she said.
“What I was told is that at the moment, we are able to offer the service to truckers. We meet them on Monday and if I see that there is a problem, we will adjust.”
However, Rouleau said truckers saw no evidence of a fast lane for them. “People who show up to the board with their paperwork for commercial transport have to queue like everyone else. It’s as if the message isn’t getting through to security or staff.”