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Despite more funding for driver's license offices, many still frustrated by long waits

By Richard Yeakley
Oct. 23, 2012 at 10 p.m.

Don't tell Saundra Harper the state of Texas has been spending millions of dollars to speed up service at its driver's license offices. She may not believe it.

The Longview resident spent three hours in the Longview Department of Public Safety office one day this past week to renew her license.

"I do not find this acceptable," Harper said after waiting from 10:30 a.m. to 1:40 p.m. to complete her renewal. "It should not take that long. I just don't think that it is acceptable."

Despite the Legislature having provided the DPS with $63 million to improve its services, Longview drivers still complain of lengthy wait times for the routine chore of receiving or renewing a license.

According to the DPS, the average wait time for all transactions in the Longview office was one hour during June 1 through Aug. 31. Those who used the Tyler DPS office had a slightly shorter wait time, with an average of 52 minutes during the period.

DPS said it does not track wait times in other East Texas offices. No data was available for offices in Carthage, Henderson, Jacksonville, Marshall, Gilmer, Quitman, Daingerfield, Mount Pleasant or Atlanta. Also, as part of its restructuring, DPS offices in Pittsburg and Mount Vernon shut down as of July 24.

The length of DPS office waits have increased, said Tom Vinger, the department's spokesman, because the state's population has been rising for years but the state has failed to provide more funding to deal with the increasing need.

"Thankfully, the 82nd Texas Legislature provided DPS with $63 million in funding ... to improve customer service and the efficiency of the state's driver license system," Vinger said.

The expansion funding came along with passage of state voter ID laws, which would put more pressure on the already strained system.

The money is being used to add 266 employees, including staff for six new "mega centers" to help meet booming demand in Houston, Austin, San Antonio and in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The DPS also is adding new technology and putting in place credit card payment systems aimed at improving customer service and decreasing wait times. And, Vinger said, the department is planning to request more funds from future Legislatures.

"We have already begun to work with lawmakers in advance of the upcoming session, relaying the need for additional resources to further improve the driver license system. We look forward to working with all lawmakers on this important issue," he said.

Information received by state Rep. David Simpson's office revealed a part of the reason the wait is still above average length in Longview - staffing.

"The biggest issue at the Longview office is staffing," DPS officials wrote to Simpson's office. "There are seven positions at that office, and three of them are vacant, including the office supervisor. They are currently going through the hiring process to fill these vacancies."

When Mattie Finch went to renew her license, it took an hour and a half.

"I'm not complaining because I can leave, but some people have jobs and kids, and can't keep coming back," she said.

However, Amadeus Jones, who was testing for his commercial driver's license, said he was in and out of the office within 30 minutes, an experience highlighting that time of day and day of the week that drivers visit the DPS make a difference on wait times.

The times most likely to have the shortest wait are before noon from Tuesday through Thursday, with Monday and Friday and after lunch being higher traffic times.

Joseph Garner was recently able to renew his driver's license in less than an hour after several previous attempts when the wait became too long and he had to leave.

"It is my third time," Garner said. "I would wait 30, maybe 45 minutes and then had to go back to work."

Vinger said the DPS is constantly trying to improve the experience.

"We are committed to ensuring Texas driver's license customers have a quick and efficient visit to the driver license offices, and we will not be satisfied until we can effectively and efficiently meet the current and future needs of our customers."



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