There’s no good excuse for DMV lines this long

It’s not by accident that DMV has long been a symbol of sloth-like bureaucracy. And that notoriety is only getting worse with the unacceptably long lines this summer at its offices.

The biggest immediate cause is a flood of Californians seeking new federal IDs, required instead of current driver’s licenses to get on planes starting in October 2020. But the Real ID Act passed in 2005, so DMV officials knew this potential gridlock was headed their way. Why weren’t they better prepared?

Bottom line: Between July 2017 and this July, wait times have increased by 46 percent statewide, and an even more frustrating 60 percent in the Sacramento region, The Bee’s Bryan Anderson reports.

Republicans in the Legislature are right to demand a comprehensive audit to get to the bottom of what has gone wrong, and to make sure DMV is taking the right steps to fix it. The request should be approved by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee when it meets Wednesday, and the audit completed quickly.

Some Democrats are calling for the agency to receive more money, and the Assembly Budget Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday. There may be some targeted assistance that would help, but it isn’t wise to just shovel more money to DMV without making sure it will make a real difference.

After all, the Legislature already gave the agency $16.6 million in June to shorten wait times. DMV has added nearly 500 employees since last year and is seeking to speed up the hiring of 230 more.

And more money won’t solve the problem of misleading customers, intentionally or not. The DMV counts wait time as how long it takes between getting a number and seeing a clerk at the window, but doesn’t include time spent in line waiting to just get a number.

Under pressure from angry drivers and legislators, DMV has taken some steps. It added Saturday hours, now in 60 field offices, and extended hours in 14 field offices four days a week. It says it has increased temporary staffing and overtime by 72,000 hours since January. In mid-July, it announced an option to fill out driver’s license or ID applications online before arriving at a field office.

On Monday, DMV plans to reassign 225 headquarters employees to help in field offices. That’s good.

The agency needs to break this vicious cycle: Because it’s busier, it’s more to difficult for motorists to get an appointment before their registration expires. So people are showing up without appointments, making the lines even longer. Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, plans to introduce a bill to give a 90-day extension to renew licenses expiring this year and to register out-of-state vehicles.

Lawmakers have a ton on their plate as they reconvene Monday for the final weeks of the session, including far-reaching issues such as police reform and wildfire liability.

But if legislators want to get in the good graces of voters before the November election, doing something to shorten DMV lines would be a real winner.

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