Plan for ‘cashless’ National Car Test system may be shelved after ministerial order

McGrath indicates to Coalition colleagues that public bodies under their remit should maintain existing cash payment methods

Plans to move the National Car Testing (NCT) service to a cashless system to help reduce test waiting times may be shelved due to an insistence by Minister for Finance Michael McGrath that cash remains an option when making payments to State agencies.

The Road Safety Authority (RSA), which has oversight of the car testing system, and Applus, which carries out the tests, had reached agreement in principle on the introduction of a cashless payments system, both bodies acknowledged on Wednesday.

However, it has emerged that Mr McGrath has written to Government colleagues asking that public bodies under their remit maintain their existing payment methods in relation to accepting cash, pending the completion of a new national payments strategy.

Opposition critical

Mr McGrath wrote to Ministers in June on the matter, and on Wednesday he posted on X, formerly Twitter: “I am currently preparing Access to Cash legislation & developing a new National Payments Strategy. I have therefore asked my Cabinet colleagues to ensure bodies under their remit continue to accept cash from members of the public seeking to access services.”


Opposition TDs have been critical of the move to card-only payments at some State services, including at NCT centres.

In his letter to Government colleagues, Mr McGrath asked them to ensure that all agencies that operate under their aegis should “maintain their existing payment methods in relation to cash acceptance pending the completion of the National Payments Strategy”.

Addressing the Oireachtas committee on transport on Wednesday, managing director of Applus Mark Synnott said more than 88,000 vehicles have failed to show for their appointments so far this year and an additional 42,000 customers had cancelled immediately before their appointment.

He said for the first two weeks of September, the average booking lead time was under 19 days, down from 27.1 days in March. While this is short of the target 12 days, Mr Synnott said the NCT service was “looking at ways to incentivise customers to attend their appointments” and had developed plans to move the service to pre-payment before the end of this year. This plan was prompted by a continuous level of customer no-shows, to reduce the threat of armed robberies and break-ins, improve transparency, to align with the principle of digital-first and to align with our contractual obligation to remove cash payments from NCT centres.”

Mr Synnott noted that “a vehicle owner who has prepaid is almost three times more likely to attend the appointment than one who has not”.

RSA chief operating officer Brendan Walsh acknowledged the contract with Applus provided for a move to a cashless system. But he said, as a State agency, the authority would have to conform to Government policy on the matter.

Mr Walsh said the RSA had appointed two sets of consultants to assist it in carrying out its supervisory role in relation to the national car test. These were a supervision services contractor, Deloitte, which would carry out certain supervisory services on behalf the RSA, and the AA which would monitor the delivery of the service at the 49 test centres and at the contractor’s headquarters.

‘Capacity issues’

Mr Walsh said he wanted “to acknowledge that Applus are not currently meeting the waiting time service level of 12 days as per the project agreement due to demand and capacity issues.”

But he said “I do believe it is important to reflect here that there are a number of key service levels which are being met in full and exceeded in some cases. These include customer satisfaction, telephone response times, number of customer complaints and test accuracy.”

In relation to delays in the driver testing service, also overseen by the RSA, Mr Walsh said the current level of delays was “unsatisfactory”.

He revealed the number of learner drivers who are available, eligible and waiting for an invitation to book their driving test was 71,554 up from 44,545 in October 2022, an increase of 61 per cent.

“At the moment, the national average time to invite for a test is 30 weeks which is unsatisfactory. The service level agreement that is in place with the Department of Transport is to maintain an average waiting time of 10 weeks”, he said.

However, Mr Walsh said additional testers had been recruited and he believed the 10-week target waiting time would be achieved by mid-2024.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times