Editorials

No good excuse for DMV lines this long

Sarah Sanchez, left, waits for her number to be called at the DMV in Sacramento, Thursday, June 14, 2018. The original numbering system has been replaced and a new system is being used in Sacramento.
Sarah Sanchez, left, waits for her number to be called at the DMV in Sacramento, Thursday, June 14, 2018. The original numbering system has been replaced and a new system is being used in Sacramento. dkim@sacbee.com

It’s not by accident that DMV has long been a symbol of sloth-like bureaucracy. That notoriety is getting worse as lines have grown unacceptably long this summer at many – but not all – DMV offices.

The immediate cause is a flood of Californians seeking new federal IDs, required instead of current driver’s licenses to get on planes starting in October 2020. But the Real ID Act passed in 2005, so DMV officials knew this gridlock was headed their way. Why weren’t they better prepared?

Bottom line: From July 2017 to this July, wait times have increased by 46 percent statewide, according to a report by The Sacramento Bee’s Bryan Anderson.

Republicans are right in their demands for an audit to get to the bottom of what has gone wrong, and to make sure DMV is taking the right steps to fix it. The request should be approved by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee when it meets Wednesday, and the audit initiated quickly.

Some Democrats are calling for more money for the agency, and the Assembly Budget Committee will have a hearing Tuesday. There might be some targeted assistance that would help, but it is neither wise nor appropriate to just start shoveling money at DMV – or any other agency – without first making sure it will make a difference.

First, we should acknowledge that in some places, like Modesto and Merced, the lines are rarely hours long. The wait in Modesto on Monday was 8 minutes, if you went online and made an appointment first. Even if you hadn’t, the wait was only 45 minutes. In Merced, people with appointments waited 16 minutes to keep it; those without were waiting 61 minutes to be seen.

Compare that to Los Banos, where the wait was 2 hours and 17 minutes, or Turlock where it was 93 minutes, or 3:44 in Manteca and, worst of all, Lodi where the wait Monday was 4:46 without an appointment. And that’s how long it was taking people to see an administrator after having gotten a number. In many places, it was taking another 15 to 30 minutes just to get to the number dispenser.

Under pressure from angry legislators and angrier drivers, DMV has taken some steps, thanks to $16.6 million allocated by the Legislature in June with the sole intent of shortening wait times. It added 500 employees and is hoping to bring on another 230 as quickly as possible. Saturday hours were added in 60 field offices, including Modesto and Merced (but not Turlock or Manteca), and many offices began opening at 8 a.m. instead of 9.

DMV says it has increased temporary staffing and overtime by 72,000 hours since January. In mid-July, it announced an option allowing Californians to fill out driver’s license or ID applications online before arriving at a field office. There are also now self-service terminals in most offices.

Monday, DMV reassigned 225 headquarters employees to help in field offices.

These are all good measures. More needs to be done.

First, tell local police departments to stop writing tickets on tags that have expired only one or two weeks prior. Many Californians procrastinate, then find themselves stuck in a line and unable to renew their tags. Having to pay fines and fees of $150 to $250 is outrageous if you’ve already wasted 3 or 4 hours in line. Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, will introduce a bill to give a 90-day extension to renew licenses expiring this year.

Perhaps all of these measures will help DMV shed its image – characterized by a sloth in the animated movie, “Zootopia.” If not, what’s slower than a sloth? We don’t want to find out.

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