LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A day after a report revealed long wait times at the DMV, the department defended its practices in dealing with a surge of driver’s license applications from undocumented immigrants under a new state program.
The KCAL9 report that aired Thursday revealed that it can take up to three months to get an appointment or a half-day wait in the lobby.
Edward Brown, a hairstylist, said his visit to a DMV office in Hollywood this week started with a long wait in a slow-moving line outside.
“Well, I got here at 11 o’clock today, and I finally get inside here maybe about quarter to 1. Then, I had to wait inside forever. I’m handicapped. I have a bad hip. I still had to wait in this line,” Brown, a California driver, told Bryan.
Brown is a staff minister at the Center for Spiritual Living and said he wanted to renew his license, which expires Feb. 12.
He says he tried to make a DMV appointment so he wouldn’t have to wait in line so long but was told the earliest appointment available was March 18. Brown said he placed that call two weeks ago.
Brown is not alone.
In mid-January, KCAL9 surveyed 14 DMV offices from Los Angeles to Orange and Ventura counties and found that none of them had an appointment available before March and, in some cases, April.
This week, KCAL9 visited the DMV office in Hollywood and was told by several walk-in customers that they waited three to five hours or more.
The breakdowns appear to have developed since California’s new program began this month to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
State Assemblyman Donald Wagner from Tustin watched KCAL9’s report and was very disappointed.
“Well, I think the problem here is a failure of the administration to be adequately prepared,” he said.
Wagner added: “It shouldn’t have come as any surprise, once this opportunity would was afforded to people, that they would attempt to take advantage of it. For the DMV not to staff properly is just really a failure of imagination on the part of administration, and I do think it’s something that’s happening around the state.”
DMV officials, though, defended the department’s handling of the situation. In emails and a telephone interview, they said the state’s adding $141 million to the DMV budget over the next three years to fund the program for issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
The DMV hired 900 additional employees statewide to carry out the program and has opened four new driver’s license centers. The department has also extended the days and hours of existing DMV offices to handle the surge in applications.
Finally, the DMV says, the average wait statewide for a walk-in driver’s license applicant is about an hour and 15 minutes, not four or five hours.
But Wagner says if the long waits for appointments and walk-in continue, the DMV will be hearing from state lawmakers.
“If the reports of your story and how widespread it is are replicated throughout the state and continue into February and even beyond, heaven forbid, then there is going to be enormous pressure from my constituents and my colleagues’ constituents around the state to deal with it,” Wagner said.
Meanwhile, the DMV says it’s constantly evaluating programs and looking for ways to make improvements but would not discuss specific changes it is considering.
The DMV did not characterize the problems as “systemwide” or a “crisis at the DMV.” It said it understands the frustration of some customers but is doing everything it can to do the best job possible.