DMV chief promises changes to improve service, cut wait times

Long customer lines continue to plague the state Division of Motor Vehicles, but the agency's chief said Wednesday that wait times are trending downward, and he is taking steps to improve service.

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Laura Leslie
, WRAL Capitol Bureau chief
RALEIGH, N.C. — Long customer lines continue to plague the state Division of Motor Vehicles, but the agency's chief said Wednesday that wait times are trending downward, and he is taking steps to improve service.

"August was a rough month for those [DMV] employees," DMV Commissioner Torre Jessup told the North Carolina Board of Transportation.

In addition to wait times at offices that stretched into hours, the agency also had problems with a vendor that produced hundreds of driver's licenses with errors and was publicly criticized for an invitation-only office for state employees trying to get their REAL IDs.

Processing REAL ID requests continues to slow down DMV operations, Jessup said, adding that a summer spike in student drivers seeking licenses or permits, internet outages and absent employees – more than a quarter of license examiners are on family leave, workers compensation or short-term disability – made things worse.

"With an agency as large as DMV, minutes add up to hours," he said.

One way the DMV is responding is by bringing back express lines for services that don't take long, he said. The agency did away with express lines early this year after customers complained that they weren't being served in order, but he said the change slowed things down.

The agency also is trying to get better information on how long people are waiting in line before they even get to take a number at a DMV office. The current system doesn't track that.

"We know that there are some wait times out there that are above an hour," Jessup said. "Those wait times are trending in the right direction – they're decreasing. I know that they're decreasing over the last three weeks, for sure."

People waiting outside a Cary DMV office on Wednesday afternoon were hard-pressed to see any improvement.

Priti Rally said she was trying to renew her driver's license after waiting in line for hours Tuesday.

"I ran out of time because I had to pick my kids up from school, so I'm doing it again," Rally said.

Jacki Brown and her daughter, Kyla, were on their third attempt to get the teen her driver's license. The pair stood in line for nearly an hour just to get inside, where a staffer said the wait could be up to two hours.

"I actually took off today from my work to do this, and I don't even know if she'll be seen," Jacki Brown said. "I've had to spend numerous days off doing this, and we've left frustrated every time."

"We went to Fuquay-Varina, and it was like this, and this is the second time here," Kyla Brown said. "We tried to go on Mondays and Fridays, which is their busiest [days], I guess, so we tried Wednesday, and it's still like this."

Jessup said the DMV has pulled back on its mobile license units and discontinued the private office for state workers to get more staffers into the field and cut down on wait times.

News of the invitation-only office still rankled people waiting at the Cary DMV office.

"I don't think that's very fair, to be honest with you," Jacki Brown said. "I'm not sure why they should get special treatment over regular citizens."

"It would be nice if it would open up for everybody, if we could stay in line less," Rally said.

Jessup said the idea of opening a special branch for state employees came from a working group trying to improve REAL ID outreach. The team has come up with a lot of good ideas, he said, adding that the state is the biggest employer downtown, so it made sense to offer service there.

"In retrospect, perhaps we would have thought about it a little bit differently," he said. "But it was a tool that we used. It did help keep [those] people out of lines in driver's license offices."

To further cut wait times, Jessup said, the DMV is boosting online appointments and license renewals, and the agency hopes to create a virtual check-in system in the next year or two to allow customers to get in line without having to physically be at a DMV office until a few minutes before they're called.

Some of those changes are "delicate," he said, because of the DMV's aging computer system. He said he doesn't want upgrades to knock anything offline, compromising service.

Despite all of the DMV's troubles, members of the transportation board didn't press him for specifics or timelines for improvements.


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