Amid withering criticism from the Legislature and the driving public, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has spent the last couple months aggressively working to reduce lengthy wait times at field offices.
But lawmakers learned Thursday that the embattled agency could soon face more trouble: A dramatic increase in customers coming in for federally-mandated Real ID cards — identification required by Oct. 1, 2020 for people wishing to board planes without passports.
Thus far, the DMV has largely blamed Real ID for the uptick in wait times. Since the program’s implementation in January, it has issued 1.5 million Real ID cards. But the agency expects more than 15 times that many — an estimated 23.5 million — have yet to be issued, as millions of Californians have not come in for the new card.
That information stunned lawmakers during a committee hearing at the Capitol on Thursday.
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“It doesn’t appear to me we’re anywhere near on track,” said state Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica. “I’m just worried about the chaos that may ensue. … There’s this huge cloud out there of getting from 1.5 million to 25 million in the course of two years.”
The DMV says it managed to reduce average wait times for customers without appointments by nearly an hour — from 130 minutes in mid-July to 73 minutes in mid-September — and that some offices are seeing greater reductions than others.
But the agency also has requested the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to extend the Real ID deadline — a request that has so far been denied.
“If we could move that date out a little further, we’d appreciate it,” said Jean Shiomoto, the DMV’s director.
Asked if most Californians are even aware of the Real ID requirements, Shiomoto said, “customers are just not hearing everything correctly and being prepared.”
The lack of preparedness also extends to lawmakers, a couple of whom asked what documents they’d need to bring into a DMV office when applying for a Real ID.
Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado Hills, stated the problem most bluntly: “We’ve got a mess on our hands.”
The DMV told lawmakers it is drafting plans to ask for more money to prepare for the influx of customers expected during the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
But Sen. Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat, urged the agency to proceed with caution when asking for money in light of the department’s ongoing issues — outdated technology, voter registration mistakes and a looming performance audit.
“You guys have efficiency things you need to work on before you come in here and ask for more money,” Beall said.
Lawmakers this summer approved nearly $17 million in additional funding to hire hundreds more staff and expand hours at field offices.