Getting to the Driver’s Seat

How easy it is to get a driving license in Pune.
Or how difficult it can get.

The son turned 18 in 2020. He can now drive a motored vehicle if he has a license. Yay! So we ventured out to get one for Arsh.

What I knew beforehand.

  • It is a two-step process—first the learner’s license test and the actual driving license test.
  • You need an agent to get a driving license done in India.

In general, we have tried to avoid agents after moving back to India in 2001. As we understood it, agents ensure a friction-free process by greasing a few palms. Basically, you employ agents to bribe people on your behalf. We wanted to avoid bribes and accept that it would take extra time to get things done.

We successfully and almost painlessly got a new ration card, updated it twice when the kids were born, a gas connection, and a phone connection. These were the usual pain-points we saw our parents go through from before leaving India. Initially, the system at the passport office was too opaque and confusing, so we got an agent to do the deed for our first few passport renewals. This crink in the system too ironed itself out as private companies were employed by the government to smoothen processes. We have had hassle-free visits to the passport office since early 2012 at least (a friend’s detailed account here), including smooth police verification.

The Road Transport Office (RTO) though is still a scary place. So scary that I even forgot this relatively decent experience from 2015. Come time to get a driving license for Arsh, I instantly thought of going through a driving school though we would teach him the actual driving.

So, none of this applies if you are going to engage a driving school to do the actual teaching. Most likely, you will want them to take care of the test too.

We approached Trishul Driving School (Trishul) in Aundh, Pune. You, please, do not. That doesn’t mean you don’t need an agent. You almost certainly do.

We engaged Trishul for the learner’s license, a couple of hours of test drives before the final driving test and the driver’s license. There were zero follow-ups from them for any of the above. He refused and made a rash u-turn on the test drives he had promised. He sent us to the wrong driving test location for the final driving test. We were to go to the Nashik-Phata RTO and not the Alandi RTO. And when we approached him with our grievances, he yelled that they hadn’t been to the Alandi RTO in a couple of years. Anyway, overall, an awful experience with Trishul.

Also, Arsh had two friends who did not engage a driving school—Isha and Ayush—who took the exam at almost the same time. I will chronicle all three experiences, with a focus on the difference in experiences. Please note that this is our experience from July 2020 to January 2021. Also, while experiences are what they are, all opinions in this post are mine alone. They are not the kids’ opinions or of their parents.

Learner’s license

You might get a learner’s test date which is a good 2-3 months away. So, you might want to start this process the day you turn 18, which is the earliest you can start.

For this bit, you don’t need an agent or school. After much follow-up, Trishul just filled an online form on our behalf and asked us for our credit card details to make the payment. Of course, we wouldn’t share those details with them, so we ended up doing the online process almost all by ourselves. Isha and Ayush did the online sign-up for a learner’s license test themselves, and it was more or less hassle-free.

1. Go to the government’s Parivahan Sarthi website.

2. The main navigation bar has a “Learner’s license” tab with a drop-down list. Click on the obvious “Application For New Learner License” and follow the steps. If you are applying for a two-wheeler license along with this one, make sure you check the correct options.

3 . The steps mentioned on the next screen take you through what you need to do. The site was slow when we were making the payment, so we had to log in and repeat one process a few times.

Uploading name and address proof documents:

3a. These are two/three from the usual IDs needed for any of these purposes—the latest electricity bill, passport, aadhaar, etc.

3b. For each of the documents, you might need front and back or two pages. In such a case, one document has to be in one pdf. So aadhaar back and front would be in one pdf file, passport first and last pages would be on one pdf file and so on.

3c. Remember the documents that you uploaded. For the actual learner’s test, you have to carry the original of the ones that you uploaded on the site. Especially, if this was an electricity bill. The test slot you get might be two months away, and you might misplace the bill you submitted in the mean while.

4. As shown in the image above, you can try out a mock test and edit your form if need be. There seems to be a slot for online tests, but that facility was not available when Arsh took the test in September 2020. Trishul Driving School gave Arsh a bunch of sheets to study from. But, Isha looked up material and tests online and was good to go.

5. Day of Learner’s License Test

You need:

– a print out of the learner’s license form

– all original documents that you submitted online

– all papers neatly stapled together

– a stapler (don’t ask, just take it)

We went to the Main RTO for the learner’s license test. As far as I can tell, that is the only office that offers the learner license test.

I don’t think it quite matters what time you reach the office. We got there about 15 minutes before our slot.

There are no signs, no pointers on how to go about it. You ask around and make your way. Agents are trying to woo you too. I wouldn’t blame you if you caved in and took one. It is a harrowing experience, and there’s no knowing if you are headed in the right direction or not.

We went to the Main RTO for the learner’s license test. As far as I can tell, that is the only office that offers the learner license test.

I don’t think it quite matters what time you reach the office. We got there about 15 minutes before our slot.

First queue: Biometrics. Exactly like it sounds. The license-seeker stands in line and gets biometrics done.

Second queue: Document verification. You are in line to meet one officer who I assume verifies your original documents against the ones you submitted online. This is why it is of utmost importance that you take the exact same documents that you submitted online. Supposedly, the Trishul guy had submitted a document under the heading “Notarised something-something”, and we had to edit our online form right there. And we didn’t have proper data network in that area for some reason, so the online editing was quite a pain in the wrong place.

Eventually, it happened.

Also, neither Isha nor Ayush faced this problem because they filled in the form themselves. In fact, Ayush was in and out of the RTO in two hours.

Third queue: Learner’s license test. You get out of the officer’s room and step out into a crowd of people. You ask around and find your way to the person who is collecting your documents. You trust your instinct and give away your hard-earned verified-documents to this person who has a bunch of documents with them. They are calling out names. You assume they are names of people in line to take the learner’s test. You assume because if you ask them, they will look through you.

Fortunately for us, it seemed like we were doing it right. Arsh’s name was called. It is a computerised multiple-choice test. You have to answer 9 out of 15 questions right. It takes all of ten minutes. Arsh and Isha, who took the exam on the same day, were out soon enough, passed with flying colours. Yes, you know your result right away.

Fourth queue: Learner’s license. The good news is you get your learner’s license the same day. The bad news is you have to go around in circles trying to find out where you get it. It is in another building on the same campus. Again, you stand amongst many people, your name is called out, and they hand you your papers along with a learner’s license. Hurray!

Driver’s license

1. Time to apply for the driving license test:

You can apply only a month after your learner’s license.

Go to the same website. This time you go on the link that says, “Driving License”. Now, this bit Trishul did for us, but Isha and Ayush went through it without help and did just fine.

2. Practice actual driving:

As with many things in education, the driving test has nothing to do with practical day-to-day driving.

The two-wheeler driving test is straight-forward. The four-wheeler driving test has three parts—slope, drive in an 8-shape, drive in an h-shape. I don’t think you can practice this on regular Pune roads. And of course, this has to be a manual transmission car. Driving schools offer practice rounds at some extra charge. They take you to grounds which have sloped, 8-shaped and h-shaped drives.

3. Day of Driver’s License Test:

As you will read, our experience tells us that you need an agent/driving school for this.

3a. For the two-wheeler driving test, you have to have your own vehicle and helmet.

3b. For the four-wheeler driving test, you need a car with dual-clutch control. Driving schools have these cars. The RTO too has such cars available for those who are not coming through a driving school. However, as both Isha and Ayush experienced, the lines are long for the RTO cars. Also, let’s just say the officers are stricter about passing applicants who don’t come through a driving school. All non-driving-school applicants have one or two cars for all three tests. There are about 30-40 such applicants in a day. All applicants go through one of the three tests first, then all of them do the second one, and then all of them do the third one.

3c. All the documents that you got back from your learner’s license test. Original ID papers. We didn’t need the stapler. But then again, Trishul handled the paper-work for us. While it sounds hunky-dory, I am not sure allowing Trishul to have all the papers was wise for us.

4. Taking the test:

As I mentioned earlier, we reached the Alandi RTO. The RTO at which our agent was not waiting for us. After much miscommunication, we realised we were waiting for each other at different offices. Technically, we could have taken the test at Alandi itself. But remember? All our paper-work was with Trishul. In hindsight, I am happy I saw the process at both the offices. The Nashik-Phata RTO certainly looks more organised. Once we got there, Arsh was done with the driving tests in a jiffy. After all, we had the agent who knew his way around. Arsh tells me there was a lot of line-cutting involved.

An important distinction is to be made here, which I realised only after the whole affair was done. The agent and Trishul are separate entities. Trishul just engages an agent to take care of their candidates. One agent might be handling candidates from many schools. Therefore, I would think you can engage an agent without involving a driving school.

This sets us up nicely for why the agent is made sort-of inescapable. All through the day, driving school staff is cutting lines and making sure their candidates get through quickly. Obviously, independent candidates will take longer to get their turn. Also, palms are most likely being greased. And independent candidates wouldn’t even know where to begin with the greasing. Also, if you are with an agent, only for the 8-shaped drive is the candidate alone. The other two tests, agent is on the passenger seat. Dual-clutch car, remember?

If you are not with a school, you will need to ask around get into a few lines to get documents verified, pay RTO car fee and get the car. Isha had to wait for RTO’s dual-clutch vehicle for more than a couple of hours. The officers were extra strict with her, and she didn’t get through the exam. Isha repeated her driving test 2-3 weeks later. And this time they went through a driving school. She did the practice drives with the school and got through too.

A few days later, Ayush took his exam. His father got an inkling that something similar would happen with them. So, he engaged an agent at the RTO itself. It took him 6 hours to finish the three tests. He got through.

All three young adults got their driving license confirmations through SMS within 4-5 days. You can print the driving license immediately. The actual license arrived in 3-4 weeks.

So, the next time I have to do this—Ruhi turns 18 next year—I will most likely do what Ayush did. Do everything ourselves and engage an agent at the RTO. I might just engage the agent beforehand, though.

Unless of course, I hear that things have changed for better or worse for independent candidates.

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