California’s Department of Motor Vehicles is telling lawmakers it expects a substantial increase in customers at its offices this summer, potentially leading to longer wait times.
Kathleen Webb, the DMV’s acting director., said Tuesday that she expects a “summer surge” as travelers realize they will need a federally mandated Real ID card. Starting Oct. 1, 2020, people across the country will need the special card to board airplanes and enter other federal facilities, unless they bring a passport.
“As more people become aware that they need a Real ID as we get closer to the deadline, we’ll continue to see an increase in people coming to the office,” Webb said.
The DMV could have a major problem on its hands in its efforts to meet the growing demand. Of the 27 million Californians eligible for a Real ID, only 3 million have received one since January 2018.
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The department projects 4 to 6 million people won’t come in ahead of the 2020 deadline. Some may opt to continue to use a passport. But that still leaves millions of cards to be issued in the next year and half. DMV officials said at a Senate transportation committee hearing that they currently issue 300,000 to 400,000 cards a month and expect to issue as many as 500,000 to 600,000 cards a month in the near future - not enough to keep up with demand.
This gap left lawmakers confused and worried that millions of Californians won’t get Real IDs ahead of the looming deadline. When state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, aggressively pushed officials to explain the discrepancy, growing frustrated when he did not receive a straight answer.
“I’ll ask it as many times as I want,” Beall said. “I’m chairman of the committee, so I’m giving you a question I’ve asked six times now.”
Webb said the department is making a “full-court effort” to raise awareness of the Real ID cards but acknowledged there will be millions of residents “who push it to the very last minute.” Robbie Crockett, deputy director of administrative services, said the DMV will work to improve efficiencies and ask the Legislature for more money in May or June.
Greg Lawson, a spokesman for the DMV said it’s difficult to predict the number of customers who will come in for a Real ID.
“To pinpoint a number is difficult because it’s voluntary,” Lawson said. “Although we can’t predict a number, we are committed to working on accommodating all Californians that want a Real ID.”
After the hearing, Beall said customers could soon experience longer wait times. He said the DMV must balance out the projected rise in customer visits with more workers and better technology.
“The traditional bureaucratic way of doing it is just ask for more money,” Beall said. “What I’m trying to do is get them to do some structural change.”
The hearing produced other revelations, including how often employees show up for work. The DMV told lawmakers in October 2018 that its absenteeism rate was around 30 percent.
But after re-defining how it measured absenteeism, the department now says its true rate is just above 6 percent — nearly twice as high as the national average, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A number of efforts are under way to improve the DMV, including an audit expected to be released by the end of the month. Most recently, Gov. Gavin Newsom deployed a DMV strike team led by Government Operations Agency Secretary Marybel Batjer.
During the hearing, Batjer echoed Beall’s desire for comprehensive change.
“Our goal is not to improve wait times and move on,” Batjer said. “We believe there must be a comprehensive change in how the DMV works. We’re starting with the processes surrounding Real ID.”
Batjer said steps have already been taken to get the DMV to accept credit card payments at offices by the end of the year. She added that other fixes would be made as necessary.
During one exchange with a lawmaker, Batjer raised eyebrows after admitting she has not personally made an appointment at the DMV in the last two years. Still, she said is fully aware of the problems and has had many discussions with those affected by long wait times.
Lynda Gledhill, a spokesperson for Batjer, confirmed the secretary has used a secret DMV office near the Capitol that serves lawmakers and their staff. Gledhill declined to identify the last time the secretary made an appointment.