DMV wait times increase 50% year over year

It’s back to the bad old days of being both a punching bag and a punchline for the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

In the final decades of the 20th century, the state DMV was scorned for its bureaucratic sluggishness and bored clerks. But the arrival of the internet as a tool to make taking care of some routine transactions much easier online and to schedule appointments for tests and renewals produced an era of relatively positive appraisals.

In 2006, San Jose Mercury-News reporter Gary Richards caught this moment in a front-page story:

“People coming in to renew licenses, solve registration problems, pay fees and deal with what was once a most painful experience.

“Not any more. This is the new Department of Motor Vehicles, where customer service is a top priority, waits are down to minutes, there are chairs, and even clean bathrooms. Frowns, scowls and worried looks of the past have been replaced by – get this – smiling customers.

“All the result of beefed-up staffing, internet service options and a new electronic queuing system at most branches.”

In 2008, Richards did a follow-up column in which he wrote about positive experiences that local readers had at DMV offices in San Mateo, Redwood City and Los Gatos.

But after the events of 2018, this brief era of goodwill toward the DMV seems like distant, almost implausible history. Wait times are nearly 50 percent longer at DMV offices than last summer.

Agency officials blame the increased workload created by the state’s obligations under the federal 2005 Real ID Act. By October 2020, Californians must have new federal ID cards before they can fly on commercial aircrafts. The DMV began issuing the IDs on Jan. 1.

But despite having years to prepare for the new obligation, DMV leaders seemed surprised by the extra workload.

Bitter public complaints have already led the Legislature to appropriate nearly $17 million so the agency can hire 230 new workers to reduce wait times. But based on public complaints, those hired so far haven’t seemed to improve wait times.

When legislative Democrats last week heeded the Brown administration’s request and balked at asking state Auditor Elaine Howle to review the DMV, the scandal – or at least criticism from state pundits – only intensified.

Last weekend, in its latest move to address critics, the DMV began keeping 60 offices around the state open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

DMV chief says she expects much faster service

The agency’s director, Jean Shiomoto, told the Sacramento Bee that her goal is for those with appointments to wait no more than 15 minutes and for those without appointments to wait no more than 45 minutes.

“You’ve got to put an ambitious goal out there to reach it,” she said. “That is what we are definitely working to achieve.”

But lawmakers don’t seem confident of any relief soon.

Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, announced that she planned to introduce legislation that would give 90-day extensions of renewal deadlines for those with licenses that expire this year.

Her rationale: “No Californian should spend an entire day off work waiting in line to take care of DMV business or wait for several weeks to make an appointment. The media stories and firsthand accounts from constituents about shockingly long wait times and other logistical challenges at DMV offices demands that the Legislature act quickly.”


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  1. Jewels
    Jewels 16 August, 2018, 08:33

    Thanks for this info. Through my experience trying to do transactions on line, like change of address to reflect this on my drivers lisence is as painful as if I were to go in the office.
    I have sent this information multiple time to them on line with no response. It has now been a year.
    Do not want to go into the DMV office as I do not want the painful experience of waiting to give this info.

    Reply this comment
  2. Dallas
    Dallas 16 August, 2018, 10:17

    The DMV is the perfect bureaucracy in achieving their growth and survival objectives. By torturing their customers they get enough pressure to get 17 million budget increase and more staff for more payroll and high wages for supervising more people.

    They have perverse incentives as an institution. If they did their job and noted that the total manhours in processing people with a line 4 hrs long and one person long are the same and their costs are the same by reorganizing the same total manhours between the front office and back office work the lines could be zero. However, succeeding in doing their job will result in a budget cut and they know that so we have 4 hr lines.

    Reply this comment
  3. Mike
    Mike 5 September, 2018, 15:15

    Like any government bureaucracy, DMV knows the slower they are and the less efficient, the more money they will receive from taxpayers. Taxpayers WILL ALWAYS lose in the end when dealing with government agencies and taxpayer supported workers.

    Reply this comment

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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