BY MORGAN LEGEL
While there has been some re-opening under PCOR 1, including less-stringent rules for dining and shopping in Guam, driving schools are still struggling.
So are the island’s learner drivers, with a pent-up demand for testing.
The island has about six driving schools, including Better Drivers Driver’s Education, JRC Best Driving School, UB Safe, Excellent Driving School and Safe Start Driver’s Education.
Better Drivers has online courses, and curb-side pickup for any instruction material needed for the courses.
Owner Colleen Smith told the Journal the school was already doing online classes prior to the pandemic, but she had to increase the number of people in the online classes.
That proved an unforeseen benefit, she said. “What the pandemic did was to allow me to improve our online courses.”
With the pandemic and the school’s physical doors shut for the most part, the number of pupils at the school “has definitely gone down in volume,” she said. Better Drivers is only managing to reach about a third of the business it had prior to the Coronavirus outbreak.
“It’s definitely a struggle,” Smith said.
The school is eager to begin in-person instruction again, and Smith said Better Drivers is “going to make it as safe as possible,” through clear shields between the driver and passenger in cars and other measures.
She also said when the school inquired about safely offering driving lessons, Guam’s Department of Health and Social Services said no. She also said she has tried to talk to someone at the Guam Department of Motor Vehicles at the Department of Revenue and Taxation for clarification but has not received any information.
Her message to DMV is, “Let us know what you’re doing — we work together,” she said.
Ha’ani San Nicholas, a driver’s license processor from the Department of Motor Vehicles, said the department is mainly focused on expired licenses and not intermediate ones, or the first driver’s license a person receives.
She also said they were booked up until July of next year for appointments for the driver’s licenses.
“The lockdowns really held us back, we were behind about 400-500 expired licenses between March and May alone,” she said.
The list of people the DMV compiles of those who need to take the written exam is about 200, and that’s going to be “a very long process,” according to San Nicholas.
As to the other driving schools, JRC Best is opting to forgo online schooling and remain closed until the governor says otherwise, according to an employee.
UB Safe said the business is currently closed as well, according to an employee. Originally, the school was planning on doing some sort of instruction and driving lessons, but DPHSS said that social distancing was not regarded as a priority in the industry.
“They just give orders …” and are not working with the schools in reference to social distancing during driving lessons, according to the UB Safe employee.
Excellent Driving is currently only open for online schooling and and has no clue when it will be back to full operations.
Safe Start is also open, with adjustments. Appointments are required, and students can pick-up distance-learning packets.
Luigi Bansil, the outreach coordinator for Global Learning and Engagement testing at the University of Guam, said written tests are just now resuming – on Wednesday, Nov. 4. The tests will be given on Wednesdays and Thursdays every other week, with priority given to those people that signed up before COVID shut the testing program down.
Learner drivers still have to schedule the test with Rev&Tax, but can also do so online.
The tests will be held at the RFK library on-campus, and attendees will need to bring $15 in cash with them for an English language test; :Languages Other Than English attendees will need to bring $35.
The authorization from DPHSS to re-open the UOG testing center comes with a familiar stipulation — the room can only be filled to 25% capacity. Bansil estimated this to be a maximum of about 50 people per test, with five tests scheduled a day. He said prior to the pandemic, numbers could reach above 100 people per test. The test was given every other Friday previously.
With an estimated average of 10,400 tests proctored a year, that leaves a lot of would-be drivers on a waiting list.
As for pricing, each driving school is different, but most offer the same courses and options.
Better Drivers charges $70 for online classes currently. When the school was allowed to offer its two-hour driving classes, the charge was $90 for private lessons and $70 for people who already knew how to drive.
At Safe Start, a learner’s permit class, including all materials and two one-hour driving lessons are $160; the road test is an additional $100.
In Guam, a learner’s permit can be acquired at age 15, and a license at 16.
According to the Guam Department of Revenue and Taxation, any permits that expire between March and December must be renewed or converted to a driver’s license by February 2021. DMV offers an on-line renewal option. Likewise, if there are any expired licenses from March 14 to Feb. 28, 2021, those must be renewed by March 1, 2021. Guam law states that any license more than one year into expiry requires a road test to renew it. mbj