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Popular Ontario driving school promises to make changes after investigation raises questions

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A popular school that trains ride-sharing drivers under a City of Toronto framework is promising improvements after an investigation raised questions about their online-only courses.

In a course attended by a CTV News Toronto producer, a student could be seen attending from a moving vehicle, while others appeared in silhouette making it hard to determine who was there.

The course also didn’t appear to use software that would make online test-taking secure—software that’s become standard at colleges since the pandemic began.

AMB Driving School said it does check IDs, has disabled chat messaging so students can’t compare answers, and scrambles its multiple choice test answers to avoid attempts to cheat.

Operations manager Nauman Malik said the company was checked by the City of Toronto’s auditors last year.

“We’re rotating quizzes daily. That’s a measure we’re doing on our side to make sure the integrity of our assessments is at the highest standard. We want to make sure we produce safe drivers. That’s the most important thing on our side,” he said.

The company acknowledged only about 15 per cent of its students take online courses and that they are relatively new compared to its in-person courses, which began in 1996. The founder said it would take the feedback to heart.

“We will be more vigilant and we will take care of this concern … we’ll make sure that we’re more observant,” said company founder Shafique Malik. “That needs improvement and we’ll make the improvement.”

The City of Toronto has struggled to enact training regulations after a 28-year-old man died in an Uber vehicle in March 2018 on the Gardiner Expressway. In 2019, addressing safety concerns including those related to the death, city council introduced mandatory training as a new requirement, which was supposed to be in place by June 2020.

The city said at the time that because of the pandemic they started licensing drivers without training, adding up to some 40,000 drivers, according to reports.

By 2022, the training requirement had returned. However, some were trained through an online-only course that could be completed in less than an hour, with no provisions to identify the test-taker was the same person requesting the license. It also didn’t require any in-car training, according to a lawsuit from Beck’s Taxi company.

Since then, the city has stepped up inspections and audits of the training providers, and introduced a requirement that anyone taking an online course be attending live to ensure the drivers “properly engage with course content, and that the learning is reinforced and supported with a trained instructor able to provide real-time support with content delivery or testing.”

According to the city, AMB Driving School is the largest provider of training with 15,410 drivers, followed by Alert Driving at 9.432, DRVR HUB at 7,093, Parachute at 686, Drivewise at 199, and Drive Pro at 25, adding up to 32,845.

Uber and Lyft driver Labros Lazaratos told CTV News Toronto he attended a Toronto course last year because he wanted to be able to drive passengers to and from the City of Toronto.

He picked an online course but very quickly wanted to pump the brakes, he said.

“It was ridiculous,” he said, recalling people sharing answers in chats, flipping video links to each other that contained test answers. He said he even saw students who appeared to be getting help from others in the backgrounds of the videos.

“That boggled my mind. If the person couldn’t do the training themselves, why are they doing it?” he said, adding that he was concerned because someone who didn’t get the training done might not navigate the road according to the rules, putting passenger safety at risk.

A video online seen by CTV NewsToronto on Tuesday appeared to offer answers to some vehicle-for-hire tests, showing at least some demand for ways to cheat.

CTV News Producer Dorcas Mario signed up to check out the AMB Driving School course. In the day-long session, most trainees paid attention and the course was conducted professionally.

One student appeared to be in a moving vehicle for some of the course, and some disappeared from their cameras for stretches at a time. No one noticed that Marfo was doing the course from a TV station with cameras recording the interaction, and there did not appear to be any way to check that her test wasn’t filled out by someone else.

That’s a serious concern, said the dean of Centennial College’s school of transportation. One of the main issues is that a webcam may show a student being alone, but it may not show the whole picture. Someone else could be providing hints or answers, he said.

“When you’re out on the road, you don’t have an opportunity to send an email and ask what to do in a situation,” he said.

Since the pandemic, Centennial has used a service that locks down computers, requires an ID check, and even records the student so that an instructor can look back and find evidence of the student referring to another electronic device.

“They take their webcam and do a 360 degree circle around the room to show that there’s no one else in that room,” he said.

The City of Toronto does not require that level of invigilation in its standards. The city said it had examined AMB Driving School in audits in July and August.

“Some issues and concerns were noted with the in-class and online assessments and the city shared the audit findings with the training provider. The training provider has addressed the issues identified and follow-up audits have found that the in-class and online assessments have been improved,” the city said in a statement.

“As the implementation of driver training program continues, the city continues its quality assurance program of audits of all accredited programs to ensure they continue to meet the city’s requirements,” it said.

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