DMV truck-test backlog sparks bipartisan privatization bill

SACRAMENTO – California state officials are worried about a shortage of certified truck drivers to meet the state’s growing transportation needs, yet a reported testing backlog at the California Department of Motor Vehicles is undermining efforts to get more truckers on the road.

“The commercial side of the DMV is so backlogged that if you finished your truck driving courses today, you’d have to wait 56 business days for an appointment to take your driver’s license test,” according to the office of Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno. Would-be truck drivers have contacted him for help, complaining people will camp outside the DMV overnight to be able to get a place in line and get their test taken.

The DMV recently disputed the long wait times, telling a local TV station its Fresno office is offering appointments within six days. This contradicts the response received by Patterson’s office, who were told of eight-week waits, excepting occasional last-minute appointment openings.

The director of the Fresno Department of Transportation sent a corroborating letter to Assemblyman Patterson noting similar challenges the city’s bus service faced over the past two years navigating new drivers through the DMV process.

“In November 2016, the delays were so long that the department sent drivers to Sacramento,” wrote Fresno Department of Transportation Director Brian Marshall. “The department paid wages and overnight lodging for 15 drivers.” Only two drivers, however, were able to get tested, even after making the trek to Sacramento.

Marshall supports new legislation, authored by Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, and co-authored by Patterson, allowing third-party testing of drivers. The state currently accepts third-party testing and licensing in a variety of areas. For instance, Californians can handle many DMV functions at American Automobile Association offices, while Realtors are tested and licensed through quick third-party processes.

In an interview Tuesday, Patterson said the DMV had not made significant progress on the issue until legislators introduced Assembly Bill 301. This legislation “seeks to reduce the severe backlog in availability of commercial Driver’s License (CDL) skills test appointments at the DMV by expanding current law to allow additional third parties, including training schools and government entities, to conduct skills tests,” according to the legislative fact sheet. Unions would be authorized to offer the tests, as well as municipalities and independent schools.

Patterson says the DMV’s current efforts to reduce wait times to four weeks is still unacceptable. “There are 30,000 unfilled trucking driving jobs in this state,” he said. “People are begging to get their licenses so they can go to work. We need to do everything we can to make sure that happens.”

The assemblyman indicated the gravity of this statewide problem. According to June DMV self-reporting data, wait times were approximately 50 days to get an appointment in Arleta, Fresno, Fremont, Ukiah and Lancaster. According to the fact sheet, “wait times in California ranged from a minimum of 19 business days before the next available appointment, to a high of 61 business days. In December 2016, 17 of the state’s 23 locations that provide CDL skills tests had wait times longer than three weeks with the longest wait being in Montebello at 65 business days, or 13 weeks.”

The legislation points to a nationwide truck-driving shortage, which is why 39 other states allow some form of third-party commercial-truck license tests. Under the bill, the DMV would have the authority to approve the private testing sites.

Critics of the current DMV process are concerned about the implications for would-be drivers, who can’t always afford to wait two months before they get started on the job. And then there are the taxpayer implications, as the Fresno transportation situations makes clear. Simply stated, taxpayers are paying drivers, who can’t work until they get through the licensing process, along with the cost implications for firms that rely on commercial truck drivers.

The DMV on February 22 dedicated a new truck-test center in Gardena that “will conduct approximately 7,000 drive tests and process 4,000 commercial driver licenses related applications annually. The office is staffed with 23 employees,” according to the agency’s statement. That may help reduce the backlog in parts of Southern California by consolidating operations that were spread around the region, although the legislation’s backers argue third-party testing offers more hope for quickly fixing the statewide problem – and that using third-party vendors is less costly for taxpayers than creating new centers.

The DMV said that it doesn’t comment on pending legislation and didn’t directly address the specific problems raised by Assemblyman Patterson. “The DMV noticed a higher volume of Commercial Driver License applicants requesting appointments to take the behind-the-wheel skills test,” the agency said. “As a result, on Jan. 7, 2017, the DMV began offering Saturday appointments only to individuals wanting to take this specific exam at nine locations across the state,” it added in response to CalWatchdog’s questions. “The DMV strives to offer commercial drive test exams to our customers within 30 days of making an appointment.”

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He is based in Sacramento. Write to him at [email protected].

Steven Greenhut

Steven Greenhut

Steven Greenhut is CalWatchdog’s contributing editor. Greenhut was deputy editor and columnist for The Orange County Register for 11 years. He is author of the new book, “Plunder! How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation.”

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