Average wait times for NCT appointments have surpassed those reported in early September as the service continues to struggle with backlogs.
The Oireachtas Transport Committee will be asked to examine claims that free tests due to those awaiting appointments have not been forthcoming.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) said the National Car Testing Service (NCTS), which it oversees, have come under extreme pressure in the first quarter of the year after most closed for almost two weeks at Christmas.
According to the RSA, the average “lead-in” time for tests in mid-January was 26.5 days, compared to 24.1 at the start of September.
The longest average wait time in mid-January was recorded in Kells, Co Meath (42 days) and the shortest in Carndonagh, Co Donegal (average eight days).
However, such averages bear little relation to the experience of many motorists who complain of delays running to several months.
Efforts by the RSA and Applus, the company that runs the centres, to speed up the service, which has been crippled by a lack of qualified mechanics, have yet to cut into waiting times.
Sinn Féin TD Darren O’Rourke has written to his colleagues on the Oireachtas Transport Committee with a view to addressing reports that free tests have not been issued and to invite the RSA to attend a committee hearing.
On Sunday, Fianna Fáil transport spokesman James O’Connor claimed thousands of motorists are probably entitled to free tests because of the failure of centres to provide appointments within 28 days. However, none have yet been offered, he said.
Neither Applus nor the RSA have yet responded to requests for comment regarding the free testing.
Mr O’Rourke, who will raise the ongoing backlogs with the recently appointed Minister of State for Transport Jack Chambers on Thursday, said Applus should be held to account for its shortcomings.
“If it’s incapable of delivering the service, and it’s not living up to its contracted obligations at this time, well then the State needs to consider all options,” he said, including the possibility of a State body assuming the service.
A proposed pilot scheme to introduce non-mechanic testers to carry out certain parts of the test is likely to be rejected in a forthcoming ballot by Siptu-represented staff in affected Dublin centres.
Speaking earlier this month, Jack Chambers said weekly test capacity had been increasing, from 25,000 to 30,000 at the end of last year, and to 35,000 by the end of January.
“We’ve been informed by the Road Safety Authority that the objective and the target is that by the end of May of this year we should be back to a 12-day average waiting time,” he said, referencing pre-Covid schedules.
However, the problems appear to be as acute as ever. A spokesman for the RSA said that aside from pent-up demand due to Covid-19, and related staff absenteeism and customer no-shows or cancellations, a lack of new car availability has increased the number of older vehicles requiring NCTs.
Customers who require faster appointments sooner can place themselves on a priority list, he said, adding that the vast majority of those who do so receive an appointment within four weeks.
Last year, the NCT Service received 60,000 late notice cancellations as well as 85,000 instances where a customer did not show up, making it difficult to reassign slots.
“Every effort is being made to manage the demand at this busy time, including the recruitment of additional vehicle inspectors, secondment of vehicle inspectors from a sister company in Spain on a temporary basis and the provision of overtime.”
A further 43 vehicle inspectors from outside the EU/EEA were recently recruited and placed in the centres “under most pressure”.