Need a Real ID? Go to the California DMV before things get worse

If you thought wait times were bad at the California Department of Motor Vehicles now, just wait. DMV officials are warning of an increase in customer visits ahead of a looming Real ID deadline.

Nearly 18 million Californians have yet to get a Real ID, and they only have one more year to do so before running the risk of getting turned away at an airport.

Starting Oct. 1, 2020 all U.S. residents wishing to board airplanes or enter other federal facilities without a passport or military ID, will need a Real ID. Since California began issuing the cards in January 2018, only 5.4 million people have gotten a Real ID — nearly a quarter of the 23 million people the DMV estimates will need to come into the DMV for a Real ID by the end of next year.

“The DMV expects the number of people who will apply for a REAL ID to increase as the federal enforcement date of Oct. 1, 2020 approaches,” said Anita Gore, a spokeswoman for the DMV.

In the summer of 2018, customers stood in long lines north of six hours in certain field offices. Though the DMV has since hired hundreds of additional workers in anticipation of Real ID, some fear a return to unreasonable wait times if more people don’t start coming in for the cards.

Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, is satisfied with his passport and does not anticipate getting a Real ID. Even so, he worries several Californians will find themselves stuck at the DMV.

“We’re seeing a real stacking up of the problem,” Patterson said. “We are very late to the process. If the numbers we’re seeing from the DMV are accurate, there’s millions of Californians that are going to get stuck with huge wait times, maybe even worse than people experienced before. I just don’t see the capacity to manage this without huge delays. My advice to the people of California is to get prepared.”

Obtaining a Real ID takes takes time and the transaction must be processed in person. The DMV is encouraging people to avoid field offices if they have transactions that can be done elsewhere and make appointments online to come in for a Real ID.

As of Sept. 27, the first available appointment in Sacramento isn’t until Dec. 13 — a wait of 11 weeks.

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.