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Flying our driver examination services to remote disadvantaged First Nations communities

Since 2003, Serco has provided Driver Examination Services for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO), overseeing c.575,000 knowledge tests and c.675,000 road tests on an annual basis at 92 testing centres across Ontario.

The vast, 1.076 million km² expanse of Ontario is home to many remote communities, including those of the nine indigenous First Nations living close to the ‘Ring of Fire’ mining and smelting development in the James Bay Lowlands of Northern Ontario.

Emerging from evolving arrangements between government, industry and First Nation leaders in the last decade has been a commitment to improve support for the needs of these communities, recognised to be among the most socio-economically disadvantaged in Canada.

In 2014, MTO asked Serco to play a part in facilitating economic opportunities and long-term prosperity for the Ring of Fire First Nations by making it easier for young community members to gain driver licenses. Many of these communities are ‘fly-in’ (meaning they can only be accessed by air travel) and lack digital access – challenging circumstances that has severely limited the take-up of driver licences for generations.

In response, our team worked with MTO and the First Nation communities themselves to develop a solution that would allow them to take the examination service direct to the individuals seeking to obtain a drivers’ license. The first visit took place in January 2015, to the Webequie First Nation, and consisted of knowledge tests only.

“At the time,” says Mary Dane, Serco Governance and Stakeholder Director, “creating a driving route in an area without standard driving conditions was considered unthinkable. After our first few visits, though, we felt certain it could be done and convinced MTO to give their approval.”

Serco worked closely with community Band Councils to identify, develop and test routes that met all requirements. Full ‘fly-in’ services commenced in 2017.

When delivering the service, a team of three Serco personnel will spend one day flying out to the destination community, 2-3 days delivering the service and one day flying home again. Applicants are screened for medical issues and identification in advance, although vision is assessed onsite with a portable testing device. All driver testing is completed manually and processed on return. Temporary licenses are then delivered by priority post.

“We’ve worked with 26 different and widely-distributed First Nations communities to date,” says Mary. “Some we’ve visited multiple times. On any given visit we may service as few as 25 or as many as 75 community members.”

None of this would be possible without strong communication and a firm foundation of trust, respect and partnership between the Serco team and their service user communities.

“These communities are amazing,” says Mary. “They’ve welcomed us with open arms and do all they can to facilitate service planning and delivery. Culturally, they really open up to our people, and that knowledge and experience is fed back to help us enhance our service.”

Such enhancements now include offering knowledge tests in three indigenous languages – Ojibway, Oji-Cree and Cree – in written and audio formats, which Serco introduced in October 2020.

“There are more than 15 indigenous languages spoken in Ontario alone,” says Mary. “2019 was the International Year of Indigenous Languages, and feedback from our visits contributed to the development of this new offering. We are delighted to support language preservation and revitalization through our services whilst enabling new generations of First Nation citizens to better support their communities by becoming safe, capable drivers.”