Quebec truckers worry problems at auto board will force them to park their rigs
MONTREAL — As frustrated motorists continue to deal with long lineups at Quebec's automobile insurance board, truck drivers are worried that they won't be able to leave the province come April 1.
The provincial auto insurance board has been dealing with lengthy lineups at many of its service centres since introducing a new online portal on Feb. 20, which users have had trouble accessing due to an authentication issue.
Richard Pellerin, a self-employed truck driver based in the province's Mauricie region, said that if he does not receive his renewed registration he will have to park his rig. Truck drivers who transport goods outside Quebec have to be registered under what is known as the International Registration Plan.
"This issue at the auto insurance board affects us all, but specifically for our industry, it's really the registrations that directly impact us, which expires on March 31 for all of us," Pellerin said in an interview.
The new website was expected to streamline certain transactions, including renewing licences, paying registration and booking exams. But it has turned into a major embarrassment for the board, known as the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec, and for the Coalition Avenir Québec government.
Quebec Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault this week cut short a European trip so she could return home to deal with the foul-up, announcing a grace period for expired licences and other measures aimed at reducing the backlog at service centres.
But Pellerin said Thursday he hasn't seen any sign that the situation is improving for truckers. "I really need to have my international registration renewed in order for me to work past March 31," he said. "Otherwise, my company will be shut down until I get that official document." Failure to have it renewed could cost him $30,000 a month, he said.
Francis Rouleau, executive director of the Association des routiers professionnels du Québec, said the 150 members of his truckers association are worried they could be hit with fines if they travel outside Quebec without a renewal.
"As long as the problem persists at the board come April 1, we will probably have several drivers with road violations and fines who will be very upset, and it's all due to a technical glitch," Rouleau said.
The plan announced by Guilbault includes giving drivers whose licences expired in the last six weeks until June 1 to renew. Vehicle registration certificates set to expire have been extended for an extra 60 days. Motorists will also have more time to register new cars purchased at dealerships.
Additionally, the validity of foreign driver's licences will be maintained until Aug. 29, so newcomers can apply for a Quebec-based licence later.
On Monday, the board said it would be bringing in 150 additional employees to its service centres and would extend opening hours. Demand is high because Quebec motorists have to make a payment every year to renew their licences. In New Brunswick, a driver's licence is valid for four years, and the standard is five years in other provinces.
Guilbault, who visited a service centre in Montreal on Friday, told reporters the preparation for the online portal's launch had been botched.
"The planning work, as far as I'm concerned, was not well done, which means that we ended up with queues that no one seems to have anticipated, but there is also the communication aspect," Guilbault said. "We probably did not do enough, and we are learning from that."
The automobile insurance board did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday and Friday.
Guilbault said the board is giving truckers and taxi drivers priority. "Under no circumstance will I accept that a trucker cannot work from March 31 or April 1 because he was not able to get service," she said.
"What I have been told is that at this time, we are able to offer service to truckers. We're meeting with them on Monday and if I see there's a problem, we'll fix it."
However, Rouleau said truckers have seen no evidence of a fast track for them. "People that are showing up to the board with their paperwork for commercial transport have to wait in line like everyone else. It is as if the message was not relayed to the security or staff."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2023.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Marisela Amador, The Canadian Press