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State Legislators Grill DMV Officials About Long Lines

SACRAMENTO (KPIX 5) -- State lawmakers on Tuesday were asking DMV officials how the department spent $16 million to make lines move faster only to have the wait times increase at DMV offices across California.

Bay Area State Assemblyman Phil Ting called for the Tuesday hearing on the DMV issue after legislators started receiving a growing number of complaints from drivers waiting for hours.

"We want to make sure that, from now on, that Californians don't have to wait eight hours in line to get their driver's license," said Ting. "That's absolutely unacceptable. We want to see changes happen immediately."

The DMV blames the longer than usual lines on customers applying for the new federally compliant Real ID.

On July 1st, the DMV received $16 million to fund increased office hours and staffing in order to cut down on wait times.

In the weeks that followed, the average wait in the bay area increased 48 percent compared to July of last year.

Getting an appointment for some offices can take weeks or even months.

Bay Area resident Meredith Murphy told KPIX 5 she experienced the problem first-hand on Tuesday when she waited several hours at a DMV office in San Jose.

"I got here at 7:45 a.m.," said Murphy.

Five hours later, she finally walked out of the DMV with a license.

She was not happy about the time she had to spend.

"It's not acceptable," said Murphy. "It's a little silly. I'm not sure if it's inefficiency or understaffing. It looks like half the windows are not even staffed inside."

"Honestly, unless you open up more DMV offices, I don't think much can be done. Because they're doing everything they can," said Praji Kulkarni, who also waited for several hours in San Jose.

During the hearing Tuesday, the head of the DMV told legislators that the wait times for appointment holders were only 23 minutes. Those legislators replied that her numbers are wrong and need to be fixed.

DMV Director Jean Shiomoto actually asked legislators for more money to hire more people to get the lines moving.

"We would ask to get budget authority of up to $26 million to allow us to hire more staff, which in turn should further alleviate the wait times," Shiomoto said.

That request sparked a heated exchange as one legislator said the department should be audited.

Shiomoto said she would not recommend and audit, claiming "it would strain our resources."

That response led to some pointed remarks from State Assembly member Jim Patterson of Fresno.

"An audit is merely going to ask you to divulge and disclose and report," said Patterson. "So to suggest that an audit -- in order to dig deep down into what you're doing by a competent auditor who has lots of history in finding errors and problems and helping us solve them -- is in your judgment a problem? Because you can't deliver the basic information that a department director ought to immediately have at your disposal?"

That sent Shiomoto backpedaling.

"I did not say that it would be a re-direction of resources at the counter," said Shiomoto. "We would never re-direct those resources at the counter."

The DMV also said it is redirecting more than 200 workers from other state agencies to work at DMV offices. It also plans to implement self-check-in kiosks, open some offices earlier, expand Saturday services and use text notifications so customers don't have to wait inside an office.

"We're going to continue to monitor the wait times and we'll make a determination whether we need to open more offices on the weekend or open some earlier," said DMV spokesperson Jaime Garza.

The DMV said the goal is to have wait times reduced to 15 minutes for appointment holder and to 45 minutes for non-appointment holders by the end of the year.

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