This year marks 20 years since New Zealand introduced photo driver licences and the AA was on board from day one. Taranaki District Manager, Fiona Croot, played a crucial part in rolling out the new style of licences in AA Centres. She shares her memories of that historic day.

What was the atmosphere like on launch day?

Wow, where do I start? Day one was definitely an ‘on-edge’ experience. It was May 3, 1999 and I will never forget opening the doors of the New Plymouth AA Centre with extreme nervousness. To be honest, we had no idea what was about to hit us. Unfortunately, the computers had a few bugs and the calls to the New Zealand Transport Agency involved about an hour-long wait for any query. The idea was that people would come in for their new licences on their birthday to stagger the queues but everyone was so excited; it felt like the whole of New Zealand was in the office! The queue snaked around the AA Centre, out the front door and well past the carpark for nearly the first three weeks; day in, day out. Staff were under a huge amount of pressure with a new process, new computers and new policies to wrap their heads around. Some didn’t last, but all in all they were amazing at dealing with the change and pressure.

How long have you been working for the AA?

I started in an office junior position in the New Plymouth AA Centre when I was 17 years old. It was before I had even finished school. In fact, I had to ask for leave on my first day of work to sit my final bursary exam. That was in 1995, which makes it 24 years in December. I’ve had multiple roles since then. I was chosen to be one of five employees to train staff for the new driver licensing process and I lived in Auckland for two months while I learnt the rules inside out. I became Taranaki District Manager in 2012.

How important was it to offer photo licences to New Zealanders? 

With the evolution of fraud, I feel that the introduction of photo licences was inevitable. Why not the AA? We have always been known as a one-stop-shop.

What significant changes have occurred since photo licences were launched?

As time went on, bugs in the computer systems were ironed out, the confidence of staff lifted, the public’s education developed and we managed to survive those first few months. Some of us who worked on the launch day are still at the AA today – well done us! Although it was an extremely busy time, ultimately it was a great team-bonding experience and a very successful move for the AA. Over the years, the process to streamline ID issuing was massive. It made it easier for people to renew or obtain their licence or to book practical tests online. Upgrading to sleek, digital cameras and, recently, upgrading the eyesight checking machines have also been game changers.

Describe a typical day in your job as Taranaki District Manager.

My role ranges from putting the rubbish bins out, serving at the counter, completing behind-the-scenes administration work, attending council meetings, leading a great team of staff from the frontline, being a ‘second mum’ to the team, being a trainer and supporting my other great team in Hawera. I guess you could say a typical day is a box of bits and pieces. 

Where are we likely to find you outside of work hours?

On the netball court. Although I’m much slower than I was in my prime, I’m still able to hold my own in our first-grade league. I also enjoy competing in half marathons and being taxi driver to my 15-year-old daughter, Paige, who performs and coaches cheerleading and my 12-year-old son, Tyler, who plays soccer and basketball. I love being a wonderful wife to my husband, Matt. Well, actually it’s more that he is a great husband to me. I’m not home a lot so he does all the cooking.

Reported by Monica Tischler for our AA Directions Winter 2019 issue

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