On-road driving test appointments at Lee County tax collector hard to get

Kim Rojas spent weeks in October checking out Lee County Tax Collector’s Website to book a road test for her 17-year-old daughter, Marina.

“There wasn’t even an option to click for the test,” said Rojas, a resident of southern Fort Myers.

So she called the office to ask for help from a customer service agent.

“They said they didn’t know and basically told me to keep trying,” she said. “They also told me that I can always book a test with a third-party provider.”

Rojas is not alone.

It’s been a frustrating process in recent months, as dozens of independence-hungry teens (and their equally eager parents) have learned about it.

A notice on the collector’s appointment page indicates that if a specific type of appointment does not appear, it is because all the available slots are reserved.

As of Wednesday afternoon, no appointment for the road driving exams was available in December, but residents could schedule the exams for weekdays in January.

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The delays, which also affect a number of other services offered by the collector, are largely due to staff shortages. These shortages have led to the current date-only system, which has been in place since August.

Sarah Anderson, spokesperson for the tax collector, wrote in an email to The News-Press that appointment availability is based on projected staffing levels, which are assessed daily.

As an alternative for novice drivers, the Tax Collector’s website lists three Lee County driving schools licensed by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to administer driving tests. While appointments are more readily available at these private companies, there are downsides. For example, the county charges $ 6.25 for an initial driving test, while the cost of the same test at a driving school is more than 10 times that amount, ranging from around $ 80 to $ 100.

Second, a Lee resident who passes the road test at one of the county’s test sites is able to obtain a physical driver’s license right after the test. On the other hand, a person who passes a road test at a driving school must always make an appointment with the tax collector to obtain the license in order to be able to drive without restriction. On Wednesday afternoon, the first meeting at one of the tax collector’s service centers was December 28.

This delay is problematic for many residents who have passed their road exams at the Bonita Security Institutesaid driving instructor Veronica Ruiz. The driving school, which is one of the providers listed on the tax collector’s website, serves many non-native English speakers who do not have reliable internet access, she said.

“Every day someone comes in asking for help getting a date,” Ruiz said. “So we are trying to help them by checking the website for them. Not everyone has access to the system online and there are no walk-in appointments now.”

Anderson added that the collector usually opens new appointments for the following calendar month at the end of each month. She also wrote that the end of the year is one of the busiest for the office with tax season starting in November.

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The month-end planning strategy proved effective for Rojas who was able to secure an appointment on December 29 for his daughter’s road test. She just wishes she knew it sooner.

“It would be good for them to be more open to information,” she said. “Less information creates more animosity when people go out there if you don’t do a good job educating the public on how the process is working right now.”

Connect with Dan DeLuca: @ News-PressDan (Twitter), [email protected]

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Esther L. Steinbach