The Division of Motor Vehicles says changes it made this year decreased wait times at its driver’s license offices this summer, reducing the long lines that made headlines and frustrated customers last year.
People waited an average of 49 minutes to be served in DMV offices in August, the agency’s busiest month. That was half the 100-minute average the same month last summer, according to DMV data.
And the share of customers who waited more than two hours — a key metric that the DMV highlights in red — declined from 31% last August to 9%.
“I’m not going to sit here and claim that we didn’t have some long wait times. The public can tell you differently,” DMV Commissioner Torre Jessup said in an interview. “But there’s definitely less red on the board than last year.”
Summer is typically DMV’s busiest season, as teens seek their first licenses and college students and families move to the state. But last summer was especially hectic, in part because of the REAL ID, a form of driver’s license that meets federal identification requirements set to go into effect next fall. Drivers can get a REAL ID only in person at a DMV office, not online, and the extra traffic fed lines that snaked out the door at many offices in the Triangle.
DMV took several steps this spring to try to prevent things from getting backed up again. For starters, the agency is encouraging people to make appointments, when an examiner has time set aside for them. When wait times in the offices start to creep up, DMV managers will offer customers the option of making an appointment within the next five to seven days.
“A lot of customers were open to that,” Jessup said. “They could wait for an hour and 45 minutes, or they could come back and be seen in 15 minutes.”
DMV also began steering people to less-busy offices when possible. Supervisors at nearby offices began talking to each other, said Mike Newsome, deputy district manager for an area that includes Durham and Wake counties.
“One will call up the other and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a lot of people waiting, I’ve got a long line outside, can I recommend some customers to come to your location?’” Newsome said. “It proved very successful, where we let a customer know that there’s not a wait 10 minutes away if you’re willing to drive over.”
Newsome said DMV workers are also greeting customers in line more often, making sure they’re in the right place and have the documents they need, to help reduce repeat visits.
Examiners get scorecards
DMV is also trying to improve the efficiency of its driver’s license examiners. At the agency’s 29 busiest offices, each examiner received a weekly scorecard of their performance this summer, showing how many transactions they completed, how long they took on average and how those numbers compare to goals set for each office.
The aim, Jessup said, was not to punish or embarrass anyone, but to look for ways each employee could work better. He said he wasn’t sure examiners would welcome the scrutiny, but most did.
“What they said to me was, ‘Nobody’s ever shown me my work production before, and now I can see what I’m doing and how well I’m doing it,’” Jessup said. “It’s a tool that’s not been perceived as threatening.”
Jessup said use of the scorecard will be expanded to all 115 driver’s license offices by January.
The DMV will continue to be tested by REAL ID, which the agency began issuing in May 2017. The card works like a standard driver’s license but meets stricter federal identification standards set by Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Starting in October 2020, people will need either a Real ID or two forms of identification to board a commercial airliner or access federal facilities where an ID is required.
About 1.2 million North Carolinians have gotten a REAL ID so far, and Jessup expects another 1.8 million will probably want one. He said the agency will try to make sure people understand that their current license will still work for driving and that they may not need to get a REAL ID by October 2020 or at all.
It took DMV more than two years to issue the first 1.2 million REAL IDs; if Jessup is right, it will have to issue more than that in the coming year.
“It’s a possible challenge,” he said. “But I think the beauty of this past peak season is that what we realize is that we’ve gotten better at doing what we do. And we’ll just build upon that.”
For more information about REAL ID, go to www.ncdot.gov/dmv/license-id/nc-real-id.