On the 3rd of December 2015 the Driving Test Center in Hereford moved from its long standing and well established site on Faraday Road to be accommodated within The Herefordshire Council offices on Plough Lane, Whitecross.
The move has been a long time coming and was officially announced to the public in September 2015. The previous site was quite an old building and no doubt became expensive to run and in need of repair. Although the full reason for the move has not been officially communicated I believe it is safe to assume that this is part of much larger strategy to reduce costs across government departments. Indeed the Driving & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) are using commercial sites in some parts of the country so this move is not really anything out of the ordinary.
I think it is fair to say that among the driving instructor community the move was not particularity well received with many holding the view that it would have a negative impact on the ability of test candidates to pass and for tests to be conducted fairly. This view was apparently based upon the volume of traffic prevalent in the immediate vicinity of the new location although in truth this was probably driven by the fear of change that is so common, and at times understandable, but on this occasion unwarranted for if a test candidate is properly prepared the location and traffic volume should not be an issue.
I would go as far to say that it is quite likely that some driving examiners might also have preferred to maintain the status quo but the plan to move was set in stone. With the last driving test taking place at 2.40 p.m on Friday 27th of November (sadly a fail for one of my clients) the team had a just a few days to up sticks and be open for business with just three working days to ‘bed in’ and adjust. It is to the credit of the Test Center Manger and her team that they have made it work.
4 parking spaces have been reserved in the car park adjacent to the offices and a small waiting area has been established inside next to the reception desk. The experience of attending a driving test has changed from arriving at a sterile site (internally and externally) to being in a live environment where the vast majority of people both in the car park and in the main building either are not aware a person is about to undertake a driving test or if they are, care very little if at all.
Some folk seem not to notice, or hinder, the signs stating the spaces are reserved for driving test candidates but to my knowledge this has not caused a serious problem but may so in the future. Cars in the car park do need to display a pass issued at the reception desk so once in the building another trip to the car park is needed. Not really an arduous task but one which may save the wrath of a parking attendant and a fixed parking penalty.
The toilets are just a short walk from reception and in terms of comfort and cleanliness are far superior to the facilities at the old site. The recently refurbished building has a large, and very light, open space on the ground floor which boasts a lovely looking cafeteria which I have yet to explore. This area is a hive of activity as workers meet and discuss their daily business in public or crouch over laptops tapping fervently away compiling their latest report or email.
Upon entering the building candidates are required to give their name to the very welcoming receptionists who, once confirmed against a list provided by the DVSA staff, will point out the waiting area a few meters away. This waiting area is dedicated to driving tests, is quite public and but does feel tucked away into a previously unused corner. candidates and supervising drivers (instructors in the most part) are left feeling like they are on display and some have commented that ‘it is like waiting outside the headmasters office’. It is not however compulsory to sit down!
The DVSA driving examiners have now taken to wearing hi visibility vests. Presumably aimed at preserving their safety and health when they step into the public car park. They tend to appear from there office on the 1st floor at the prescribed time and from that point the only difference is that some information about the test is delivered on the walk to the car park which does serve to break the ice a little and doubtless saves a few moments.
With two tests completed from Plough lane I have a pass rate that is commensurate with the national average – 50%. I sat in on both tests and of course routes have had to be adjusted a little but are in no way any harder, or indeed easier, than before. Roads are roads and driving is driving after all. I am looking forward to my next test at Plough Lane and, if I am not asked to accompany the candidate, to tasting the coffee from the cafeteria.
It is always my aim to ease any nervousness prior to a test. Performance anxiety is dealt with by building confidence in driving ability and fear of the unknown by familirisation of the process. Of course it is never actually my tests and always that of the candidate but as an Instructor I would have to have very thick skin not care about the outcome or share the sorrow as much as I share the joy of each result. For that reason I always try my utmost to make the experience as painless, if not enjoyable, as I can.