Under increased pressure by outraged Californians to reduce waits of eight hours or more at some DMV offices, the besieged agency is sending in more reinforcements even as it’s asking the state for more funding to solve the growing crisis.
The DMV announced Tuesday that it will assign 240 employees from state headquarters and other agencies and departments to combat rising wait times at field offices. This comes after it has hired 500 new employees. But unbearable lines have been the norm for several months since applications for the federal-compliant Real ID driver license or identification card have been implemented.
Sacramento lawmakers have gotten the message, and at a hearing Tuesday evening, Assemblyman Phil Ting and his colleagues held DMV officials’ feet to the fire about lines that snake around the block at many branches.
“I was shocked,” the San Francisco Democrat told the Sacramento Bee after he recently visited a crowded DMV office in his district. “What we’ve been hearing are horrific wait times of six or seven hours. That’s unacceptable.”
Under sometimes intense questioning by lawmakers who were speaking on behalf of angry constituents, DMV Director Jean Shiomoto agreed that the long wait times in recent months have been unacceptable. She told lawmakers wait times spiked several months ago as Californians started to update their licenses to meet new federal security standards known as Real ID.
The agency underestimated how long it would take to explain the new requirements to customers and ensure they have necessary documents, Shiomoto said. And she asked lawmakers for additional funding to hire more employees, possibly as much as $26 million on top of the millions in additional funding the agency has already been granted.
Several of the panel members were visibly frustrated by what they saw as Shiomoto’s failure to grasp the scope of the problem and appreciate the anger that many Californians are now feeling toward her agency. In recent weeks, the DMV has become perhaps the most despised public agency in the Golden State. Lawmakers have given the department millions of dollars in additional funding to accommodate higher demand caused by the Real ID upgrade, but the lines don’t seem to be getting any shorter. Each of the lawmakers who spoke on Tuesday offered up their own DMV horror stories while Shiomoto quietly listened.
For his part, Assemblyman Phillip Chen is requesting an audit of the department and how it is handling the Real ID changes. He told the Bee that the biggest complaint he gets about the DMV from his constituents is the long lines.
“We want to make sure we’re not putting money into a broken system,” the Diamond Bar Republican told the paper. After Tuesday’s hearing, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee will consider Chen’s audit request Wednesday.
To ease the long wait times, the DMV is staffing 60 offices on Saturdays and extending morning hours at 14 offices.
“We want to do better and we will do better,” Shiomoto said. “Our customers deserve it.”
With the beefed-up staffing announced this week, the DMV says it’s trying to ensure customers have the required documents to complete their transaction and get a service number faster. They are also assisting customers with filling out the electronic driver license and ID card applications, the DMV said in a news release.
And motorists who provide their cellphone number when they check in can receive a text message shortly before their service number is called so they do not have to wait inside an office. This service could be ready in two weeks.
Shiomoto said this approach should “help triage the longer lines at our offices.” The move comes as state legislators this week begin holding hearings and undertake an audit of the DMV.
The DMV is also testing self-check-in kiosks. Those with appointments can bypass the “Start Here” window and use a kiosk to instantly receive their service number. This option is being tested at the San Jose Driver License Processing Center.
This month, the DMV will add self-service vehicle registration renewal kiosks to 10 additional field offices. Later this year, the department will expand to 50 additional grocery store locations, bringing the statewide total of DMV Now Self-Service Terminals to 160.
Despite the DMV’s initial increases in service, customers have continued to complain about the waits.
Sheila Cahak, of Fremont, needs to renew her license next month but couldn’t find an appointment opening anywhere in the Bay Area before October. She finally found one in Stockton on the Friday before Labor Day weekend.
“Who would want to drive to Stockton under those circumstances?” she said.
Instead, she went to Bishop and finally found help.
“Because I had all my documents in a row, I walked in at 8, got a new photo, took a vision test, made a thumb print, and walked out at 8:20 a.m.,” she said.
“Of course, I had to drive 300 miles to make it possible. I speak for the rest of humanity: I’d rather have oral surgery without anesthetic than have business at the DMV.”