Capitol Alert

Don’t go to the DMV on Wednesday. Why California offices will be closed until 1 p.m.

California DMV customers angry over rising wait times

Customers across California are experiencing rising wait times at the Department of Motor Vehicles. People at the Sacramento South field office on July 26, 2018 were particularly frustrated.
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Customers across California are experiencing rising wait times at the Department of Motor Vehicles. People at the Sacramento South field office on July 26, 2018 were particularly frustrated.

If you’re planning to visit the California Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday, think again.

The DMV is closing all of its offices until 1 p.m. to train workers on Real ID — a program mandated by federal law that requires people to get an updated ID card by Oct. 1, 2020 to board planes or enter certain government facilities without a passport.

The training on Wednesday aims to clear up any confusion for workers and provide better customer service ahead of an anticipated “summer surge.” Since the Real ID program launched in California in January 2018, the DMV has issued more than 4 million cards, which pales in comparison to the estimated 20 million that have yet to be issued.

“The more education, the better things work,” said Greg Lawson, a spokesman for the department. “As we try to inform our customers on how to be prepared, we want to make sure our employees are well-equipped as well.”

Customers who show up during the event will be greeted with signs on the front door informing them that workers are being trained and that the office won’t open until early afternoon.

In a statement, DMV Acting Director Kathleen Webb called the training effort “unprecedented,” noting that “Californians will see more consistent customer service statewide.”

The DMV said in an announcement on Monday that it is already experiencing “unprecedented demand” because of the increase in customers applying for a Real ID, which must be done at a field office and cannot be processed online.

While the DMV is expecting more customers to come in this summer, wait times have dropped significantly since they peaked a year ago at 2 hours and 10 minute for customers without appointments.

The department’s most recent data shows customers across the state without appointments waited an average of 49 minutes in May, with the longest delays occurring in the Los Angeles area.

In Sacramento, customers at the 4700 Broadway office with appointments waited just nine minutes, while people without them waited 53 minutes. In the Sacramento South field office, customers with and without appointments waited 19 minutes and 51 minutes, respectively.

But with the Oct. 1, 2020 approaching, millions are expected to pour into DMV offices, raising fears of a potential return to the lengthy wait times.

Gov. Gavin Newsom took office in January pledging to improve the DMV’s customer service and correct a string problems at the department that included the state’s implementation of its Motor Voter program. The voter program launched in April 2018, and the state has acknowledged it made about 105,000 registration errors in its first months.

Newsom appointed a strike team in January to fix the department he once called “chronically mismanaged,” and the strike team is expected to unveil its full report on Tuesday. Meanwhile, an outside firm called Ernst & Young is expected to soon release its review of the department’s long wait times.

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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.
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