I thank the Chair for his introduction. I thank committee members most sincerely for the opportunity to speak to them this morning and to discuss the pre-legislative scrutiny of the road traffic Bill and delays in driver licence renewals and driver tests caused by the current Covid-19 pandemic. I am joined virtually by some of my senior leadership team, which was noted by the Chair, and together we will endeavour to answer committee members' questions. We have submitted a full briefing note on the issues under discussion. I do not propose to read it in full but I would like to highlight the main points in the interest of addressing key concerns which committee members may have.
With regard to the road traffic Bill, as members know, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, announced on 1 February the Government's approval to draft legislation which addresses several road traffic and road safety related issues. The main provisions of the Bill include legislation around the use of e-scooters and e-bikes. In addition to the legislation relating to e-scooters and e-bikes, the Bill will also include revision of legislation regarding the giving of driver instruction for reward, the introduction of a new power of the Road Safety Authority to revoke a driver licence and legislation for autonomous vehicles on Irish roads.
The RSA welcomes the Bill and its provisions and looks forward to more details being published. It also goes without saying that we are available to participate in future detailed pre-legislative scrutiny at a time decided by the committee.
The following summarises the situation regarding RSA services and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on them. I will begin with the driver theory test.
The extension of Covid-19 level 5 restrictions by Government, until at least 5 April, means that the driver theory test continues to be suspended. More than 80,000 driver theory test appointments in place over the coming months are now being rescheduled because the suspension of the service is being extended. We are very much focused, in line with Government advice, on meeting the demand to restore pre-Covid waiting times when the service reopens.
We have plans to significantly increase capacity within the service when it can reopen. This includes increasing capacity from an average of 15,000 tests per calendar month to 50,000 tests per calendar month when the service resumes. This increased capacity will be available from mid-April 2021. In addition to this, we are working on rolling out an online driver theory test service called ProProctor. This was trialled in December and January for those taking a theory test for trucks and buses. The pilot is now being evaluated and the Road Safety Authority, RSA, is committed to extending the service for all theory test types during 2021.
Regarding driver licences and the National Driver Licence Service, NDLS, the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, announced details of a further extension to the expiry dates of driver licences on 24 February, as have other EU member states. The extension will apply to different groups of licence holders, including those who benefited from previous extensions in 2020. Drivers can see if they qualify for the extension by using the expiry date calculator on the website ndls.ie. Entering the expiry date printed on a driver licence into the calculator will tell a driver the new expiry date. The RSA has told Insurance Ireland and An Garda Síochána about the extension to the driver licences.
Processing times for driver licences are taking longer than usual at the moment with standard applications processed within a 12 to 15 day average as opposed to the normal three to five day average. This is due to higher volumes of applications, inclusion of a postal option for those aged over 70 and more complex Brexit-related cases. The introduction of the extension to expiry dates of licences will result in reduced applications. We are undertaking a number of measures with the service provider which will improve the rate of processing and we anticipate that turnaround times will return to normal levels shortly.
For those who need to apply for a licence or a learner permit, the NDLS centres remain open for essential workers. In addition, our online application service ndls.ie has been successfully rolled out and those with a public service card and a verified MyGovID account can apply for their licence or permit online. To date, in 2020, more than 40% of customers have applied online.
I know members are anxious about the backlog that is building up in the driver testing service so I will provide an update on this. From the outset, we should not underestimate the impact Covid-19 has had on the driver test and the challenges faced by RSA driver testers to deliver the driver test safely during this global pandemic. The RSA's priority is the safety of its staff, test environment and customers. We have strict public health protocols in place to achieve this and, to date, since reopening in July 2020, we have conducted almost 90,000 driver tests. The service is being delivered safely and in line with public health advice. Our driver testers are working to test people in cars, trucks and buses so that supply chains can remain open and those deemed as essential under regulations can continue to provide their essential work. I must commend our testers on their commitment to road safety and to delivering a vital public service at this time.
The waiting time for a driver test, pre-pandemic, was six weeks. As a result of Covid-19, the suspension of services for more than four months and ongoing restrictions have all generated significant backlogs. The extension of Covid-19 level 5 restrictions by Government until at least 5 April means that the driver test service can only deliver driver tests to essential workers. Since we can only test essential workers, we are not able to fill all our available capacity so most recently circa 25% of driver test slots are going unused. We expect this to persist during level 5 restrictions.
It is not possible to provide waiting times for the driver test because the service is not operating as normal. As tests are only available to essential workers and we have surplus capacity we can offer test slots to essential workers almost on demand. What we can say is that we have 98,414 applications on hand and of these 5,670 hold a test appointment in the coming weeks while 62,024 are waiting for a test. The remaining 30,720 are ineligible for a test. Those who are ineligible are generally customers who have not completed mandatory lessons.
If all customers who are eligible to be tested at present, that is, if there were no restrictions, were offered a test appointment in chronological order, we estimate that the average waiting time would be more than 20 weeks. The RSA is making good progress in recruiting an additional 40 driver testers sanctioned by the Minister of State and our expectation is they will be available to conduct tests by the end of June 2021. In addition to the existing complement of 138 driver testers, this will add much-needed capacity to the service.
However, this will not be enough to get waiting times down to the service level commitment of an average of ten weeks. The RSA is submitting further proposals to the Department of Transport seeking approval for an additional number of driver testers, on a temporary basis, to tackle the backlog.
The RSA launched a new customer portal, MyRoadSafety.ie, on 30 November 2020. It is a one-stop shop for all RSA services. Initial teething problems with the new system led to issues for our driver test customers, in particular long call waiting times to access our customer care centre, CCC. This was compounded by the large number of customers contacting us looking for a driver test date. We have assigned additional resources to our customer call centre and reduced the call waiting times by more than 50%. However, volumes are continuing at high levels with driver testing wait times being the main query. We continue to improve this service.
I am happy to take questions from the Chair and committee members.