Politics & Government

Here’s how the DMV cut wait times in Northern California by 50 minutes in the past month

DMV users hit with long waits

Wait times at DMV offices increased this year due to added processing for new REAL ID cards and startup problems with a new numbered queuing system.
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Wait times at DMV offices increased this year due to added processing for new REAL ID cards and startup problems with a new numbered queuing system.

On Thursday afternoon at the main Sacramento DMV office, the mood was relatively calm. People sat in small blue chairs, watching the screens, waiting for their numbers to be called.

A woman who went only by her first name, Byrd, fed milk to a tiny, 11-day-old Chihuahua curled in the palm of her hand. She said she had been waiting for thirty minutes — she knew because her dog had to be fed in half-hour intervals, and she had fed it just before starting in the queue.

It was a scene indicative of a larger trend: In the past month, average DMV wait times throughout Northern California have dropped by 50 minutes. In the Sacramento office on Broadway, it was reduced by 65 minutes, making the new average wait time 85 minutes.

For DMV Director Jean Shiomoto, those numbers are a step in the right direction.

Shiomoto said her hope is to reduce wait times so that everyone served gets in and out of the office within 30 minutes, times in line with what the wait was before the introduction of Real ID, the new license required by the federal government to travel by plane by 2020. According to DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez, Real ID processing can take twice as long as the old licensing process.

Since that change, DMV customers across the state have had to wait up to six hours to be served, sometimes standing in lines outside or sitting in crowded rooms. In early August, to combat those long wait times, the DMV established multiple working groups responsible for improving different parts of the department’s operations, Shiomoto said.

In addition, the DMV is employing a variety of tactics to make customers wait less. Employees now go from customer to customer at the lines that form outside before the DMV even opens, asking people what they’re trying to get done and making sure that they have all the necessary paperwork. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee approved funding to hire 230 additional employees. And, as of a couple weeks ago, people can now get a text message alerting them when their DMV number is called.

“We’ve heard quite a bit of feedback that it’s giving them some free time to run an errand and come back when they get notified,” Shiomoto said of the new service.

But it seemed like some people at the DMV on Thursday hadn’t noticed the shift yet.

“I come here with the expectation it’s going to be an hour or two,” said Kristina Byrd, as she waited for her number to be called.

Latoya Jackson, another person waiting to file her paperwork on Thursday, said she took off a full day of work just to come into the DMV because she was sure that it would take up her whole day.

Jackson had been waiting for an hour. But shortly after, her number was called, and she stood up to go talk to a DMV employee at a different counter.

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