California’s Department of Motor Vehicles announced this week new efforts to reduce wait times, such as a new text notification program, self-service kiosks and extended hours. On the Central Coast, part of that reprieve is new Saturday hours at the Salinas and San Luis Obispo offices. San Luis Obispo County specifically has seen a huge jump in wait times over the past year, almost doubling. They’re not the longest wait times in the state, but long enough to have customers lining up outside every morning.
Steve Garcia stood outside the San Luis Obispo DMV Thursday morning.
“I tried to get an appointment; the first available was for August 28,” Garcia said. “My license will be invalid on August 21. So then I said, ‘I’ll go to a different, smaller place.’ I tried to go to Paso Robles and make that appointment, but that was for September 5. I said ‘OK let's just get in line,’ so I left the house at 7, here at 7:15 to stand in line and wait."
Scheduling an appointment or even coming during the new Saturday hours wasn’t an option for Jenny Duval either.
"My wallet got stolen so I have to get a new driver’s license because I’m going on vacation next week," Duval said.
Wait times have spiked at DMV offices across the state. According to DMV data, in 2017, the wait time for the San Luis Obispo office was 29 minutes. Now it’s 56 minutes. In Paso Robles, it was just under 29 minutes. Now it’s almost 57 minutes. That’s a 92 percent increase across the county.
Artemio Armenta is a spokesperson for the DMV.
“[For] customers who arrive through our field office without an appointment, the wait will likely be longer and we apologize,” Armenta said. “We’re trying to really work on streamlining that, in addition to the added workload of having REAL ID implementation.”
The California DMV has been in hot water with state politicians this week for its excessive wait times. The DMV says REAL IDs, which in 2020 will be required to fly domestically or go into a federal building, are making things take longer because people have to come apply for them in person.
“We’re a very large state,” Armenta said. “California has approximately 40 million residents, about 26 million licensed drivers, and about six million people with an ID card.”
Artemio said the DMV is working to get more funding from the Legislature and the Department of Finance to hire hundreds of new employees. He also said the San Luis Obispo office has added two new positions and are trying to hire more. But it may not necessarily be a quick fix for the wait times.
Steve Montes is a former operations manager at the San Luis Obispo DMV. He retired in 2017. Montes also works at KCBX.
“When the DMV hires somebody, it’s kind of like hiring a police officer or firefighter,” Montes said. “They gotta go to training. How do they learn the transactions at the DMV? That could take three or four weeks, that could be labor intensive.”
Montes said there’s another reason wait times can be long at the San Luis Obispo office, specifically, as not all offices offer commercial driver’s license drivers test. For a large swath of the Central Coast, the driving test is only offered in the San Luis Obispo field office.
“So if I’m in Santa Maria, if I’m in Lompoc, Paso Robles, and I’m taking written tests for commercial licenses, I can start them all in the smaller field office,” Montes said. “But the completion would have to be done in SLO. Obviously, we’re going to have more traffic.”
For now, the DMV is pushing for customers to schedule out their visits weeks in advance whenever possible. Artemio Armenta with the DMV suggests calling the department’s main number if you are having trouble finding at an appointment. But you may have to wait for more than an hour for an agent to answer your call.