Supplier not at fault, report finds
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has announced 52 new vehicle lifts will be purchased to resolve the MoT crisis.
The replacements will cost £1.8million and be funded out of Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA) reserves.
The SDLP minister blamed an "inadequate inspection regime" and metal fatigue for the crisis which saw capacity at Northern Ireland's 15 test centres much reduced and thousands unable to test their vehicles.
She commissioned two reviews into how the problem developed and how it was handled as well as ensuring it will not happen again. The first recommended replacing all those lifts with the cracks instead of just repairing them.
While the second audit report has not been completed, it has, however, highlighted that there are no issues with the purchasing of this equipment from the existing supplier.
Alliance MLA Andrew Muir called for the publication of the reports "as soon as possible".
"There is a need for the quality and regularity of information being given to the public to be increased," he said.
“Road safety needs to be a priority, so it is crucial the Minister outlines all future plans as soon as possible, as the backlog of vehicles needs addressed and the completion of replacement lifts only by July may cause further issues.”
The minister said the matter had highlighted how the MoT system needed improvement. She said she had "carefully considered" a range of options including legal action and hiring replacements.
“It is clear an inadequate inspection regime and metal fatigue led to this situation," said the minister.
"I have therefore instructed my officials to put in place an improved equipment replacement cycle and regular robust inspection and maintenance, with an additional layer of independent inspection built into the new contract.
Cracks were found in most lifts carrying out tests at every centre in Northern Ireland.
They were first detected in November, however, it was not until January officials put a stop on most private and light vehicle tests. During the final quarter of last year almost 270,000 tests were carried out.
Most cars were given an exemption to allow them to continue on the roads. However this could not be applied to four-year-old cars needing their first test or taxis.
From the period tests were first stopped until February 17, almost 43,000 inspections have been cancelled.
On Thursday, Ms Mallon announced 52 new lifts would be installed between April and mid-July. They will be the supplied by the same company as before.
"My priority has and remains the safety of DVA staff and customers," she said.
"I have acted quickly to minimise inconvenience to the public and allow drivers to tax their vehicles and continue to drive."
She added: "The longer this goes on, the more inconvenience for people across Northern Ireland and this is not acceptable.
“Until the lifts are operational, the advice to customers remains the same. All vehicles will have the necessary cover to allow them to remain on the road either through a temporary exemption certificate or a priority appointment. Road safety is a priority for me and I want to remind drivers they have a responsibility to ensure their vehicles are roadworthy at all times.
Temporary exemption certificates will continue to be issued to all cancelled customers
“The priority vehicle contact line, for owners of four year old vehicles, taxis and car dealerships will continue to operate to make it easier for these vehicle owners to contact DVA for an urgent appointment.
“Temporary exemption certificates will continue to be issued to all cancelled customers, enabling the public to continue to use their cars and all customers who have been cancelled will receive a full refund of their booking fee.
“I appreciate that this has been a difficult time for both customers and staff, and the DVA sincerely apologises to all those affected. I also want to pay tribute and thank DVA staff as they continue to work in these challenging circumstances while seeking to provide the best possible service to customers.
“While these steps will return test centres to full capacity safely and swiftly, the situation has brought to light the need to improve our MOT system and centres and this is something I will be considering in the months ahead. I will continue to keep this matter under review and as the position changes and the new lifts become operational, I will ensure the public are fully informed.”
A Belfast car dealership has warned that the current MoT crisis could lead to job losses, while the new Infrastructure Minister branded the situation "unacceptable" and ordered two reviews into the handling of the crisis.