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driving concerns

I’ve been driving for over 45 years and have never driven with an expired sticker – until I noticed today that my sticker expired in January 2021. I renewed it online after I drove past the Service Ontario office and saw that it had a two- to three-hour wait. I never received a notification that my sticker was due. If this is a COVID-19 policy, why didn’t they send out letters or emails? How long will this last? How will they handle the bottleneck once they start enforcing expiry dates? And what about all the revenue that has been lost? – Paul, Bath, Ont.

About a quarter of Ontario’s vehicle owners are driving with expired stickers, the province said – and it’s still not clear when they’ll have to pay up.

Since March 1, 2020, Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO) has suspended the expiry dates of annual licence plate stickers, driver’s licences and disabled parking permits “until further notice.”

It has not announced an expiry date for the no expiry policy, which was part of a move to reduce visits to ServiceOntario centres at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before that, you would have had to renew your registration every year and your driver’s licence every five years.

The MTO has asked police across Canada and the U.S. not to ticket Ontario drivers with expired plates or expired licences until further notice, but there’s been at least one case where an Ontario driver said he was fined $489 in Quebec for not having a valid Ontario plate sticker.

Likewise, insurance companies won’t cancel your insurance because you’re driving with expired registration or an expired licence.

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Numbers unclear

While you don’t have to renew right now, the MTO recommends that you do.

You can still renew expired licences and expired plate stickers online or at a Service Ontario location. But plenty of people haven’t.

The MTO said 25 per cent of owners had expired stickers at the end of July this year, but it didn’t say exactly how many vehicles that is. In 2019, Ontario had 12.8 million registered vehicles. A quarter of that would be over 3.2 million vehicles.

Also, about a quarter of drivers with expired driver’s licences hadn’t renewed them by the end of July, the MTO said.

But it didn’t say exactly how many drivers that was. In 2018, there were 10.4 million licensed drivers in Ontario.

While there are details about the extensions on ServiceOntario and MTO websites, the province didn’t send out letters notifying people.

Plus, during the pandemic, it stopped sending out letters to inform people that stickers and licences were up for renewal.

That’s led to confusion where people aren’t sure if they’re allowed to drive, said New Democrat MPP Catherine Fife, the province’s finance and treasury board critic.

“The communication has been very poor,” Fife said. “When you’re dealing with seniors or people trying to navigate MTO services, it needs to be straightforward.”

Road test backlogs

The lockdown has already caused a bottleneck with road tests.

A month after Ontario road test centres reopened this June, there were more than 700,000 people still awaiting tests.

While the province said it has launched pop-up test centres and hired more examiners to help meet the demand, it’s not enough, Fife said.

“People are literally in limbo,” she said.

Fife said her Waterloo constituency office has heard from people who had to quit their jobs because they can’t get a road test to get their licence.

“We need to make sure everyone is healthy [during the pandemic], but clearly the system is overloaded,” Fife said. “The government knows this – they didn’t need a crystal ball to figure out they needed to [hire people] to make up for lost time.”

Once the province starts requiring people to renew expired stickers and licences again, the system could get even more overwhelmed, Fife said.

The MTO said it’s encouraging all Ontarians to renew stickers and expired licences online instead of at a ServiceOntario centre. To make that easier, it’s issuing new licences with existing photos so you don’t have to go into a ServiceOntario centre to take a new one.

While most other provinces have made online renewal easier during COVID-19, none of them have suspended expirations indefinitely.

in March 2020, for instance, Alberta extended expiry dates until May 2020.

Fife said she doesn’t discount that Ontario has lost revenue from both renewal fees – $90 for driver’s licences, $60 for plate stickers in Northern Ontario and $120 for plate stickers in Southern Ontario – and from unpaid traffic tickets that people normally have to pay before they renew licences or plate stickers.

“I think there’s a time and a place to review the lost revenue,” Fife said. “But right now, the priority should be on spending to hire more [examiners] to ensure that people can get road tests.”

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