Drivers go nowhere fast at DMV

Change in law leads to long lines and aggravation

Drivers trying to renew their licenses face a very long wait at the Department of Motor Vehicles office at the state building on Sixth Street in Grand Junction.

A sign on the door at the Department of Motor Vehicles warns drivers that they’re in for a long wait as they attempt to renew their driver’s licenses.

Now serving No. 13.

“I’m number 36,” Grand Junction resident Paul Turner groused as he waited in line at the Division of Motor Vehicles office at 222 S. Sixth St. earlier this week. “And I’ve been here more than a half hour already.”

Get used to those long lines, Mr. Turner. They will be with Colorado motorists looking to renew their driver’s licenses and state-issued identification cards for at least the next five years, state officials say.

But don’t get mad at the underpaid, overworked DMV workers for the lines that have taken some people even longer to get through than Turner, who ended up waiting two more hours before being served, and he has to go back and wait in line again to take a driving test.

Blame the Colorado Legislature instead, said Mark Couch, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Revenue, which oversees the division.

“In 2000, lawmakers passed a bill that said, beginning July 1, 2001, licenses are good for 10 years. Then in 2005, they changed it back to be five-year licenses effective July 1, 2006. Guess what? It’s July 2011,” Couch said. “We have all those people who got 10-year licenses coming into our offices, and all those people who got five-year licenses all at the same time. Worlds are colliding.”

By July 1, the end of the state’s fiscal year, the division processed more than 1.3 million transactions, a 39 percent increase over the prior fiscal year.

That will get worse because those transactions don’t include the 10-year/five-year renewals, Couch said.

Still, there are avenues other than going into a DMV office, at least for some. The law allows drivers to renew their licenses by mail or through the Internet every other time they have to renew.

Although an increasing number of Colorado motorists are starting to take advantage of the Internet option, Couch said the division would like to see more people use it. Last fiscal year, nearly 108,000 transactions were done online compared to 21,138 the year before.

“So why not hire more people?” Turner asked. “Seems to me you could create jobs in this bad economy. The only times we can come are during the week, and we have to take time off from work to do it.”

Trouble is, that bad economy has hit the state, too, Couch responded.

In 2002, the last time the state was hit with a recession, then Gov. Bill Owens ordered the closure of about two dozen DMV offices around the state. Since then, the state has been able to reopen three, all of which were on the Front Range.

“It’s just not in the budget to increase the number of offices,” he said. “As for staffing, we don’t have the budget to do that, either.”

To make matters worse, for the next week the Grand Junction and Montrose DMV offices could see more Delta residents coming in. That’s because the Delta office will be closed from Friday to Aug. 9 because of “staffing issues,” Couch said.

Because the division has no money to launch an education campaign to persuade motorists to use the Internet or mail-in options as a way of minimizing office wait times, it formed a partnership with the Denver-based Donor Alliance to help.

That partnership helped boost the number of people using the DMV’s online system, and it helped increase the number of motorists agreeing to donate their organs, said Jennifer Moe, spokeswoman for the nonprofit group.

At first, Moe feared the long lines would cause angry drivers to skip over the question asking to donate transplant organs. That’s why it agreed to print thousands of postcards that the Department of Revenue mails to motorists who are eligible to renew without having to come into a DMV office.

Moe said that at 67 percent, Colorado already is first in the nation in motorists who have agreed to donate their organs. Since the department last spring began mailing 24,000 of the alliance’s postcards per month, encouraging drivers to renew online or by mail, 43 percent have done so. Of them, 73 percent have agreed to be organ donors.

“Some offices have terribly long lines, and I could probably tell you stories of people in line waiting for six hours here in Denver,” Moe said. “But we’re not seeing a dip in people registering as a result. The first priority of the postcards is to get people to go online. But not only are they going online, they’re designating ‘yes’ at a higher rate. That’s good.”


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