Wait times grow as staff shrinks at OMV offices
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Heading to a state motor vehicles office to get your drivers’ license? A legislative report suggests you might want to bring a book or Kindle and expect a wait.
Wait times at locations for the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles have shot up to as much as an hour and a half in some places as Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration slashed staffing levels amid continuing state budget cuts, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Office.
The financial analysis, released in a monthly report for state lawmakers, says that as OMV staff dropped 23 percent, wait times grew from as little as 8 to 16 minutes in 2009 to more than an hour by 2013.
State Police Col. Mike Edmonson, who oversees Louisiana’s motor vehicle offices, acknowledged that wait times have increased as staffing levels have fallen. But he said the data outlined in the fiscal office report are only a snapshot in time and don’t indicate that wait times are always long for customers.
“It’s an average, but it’s an average based on peaks. Some days might be like that, but I don’t think it’s like that all the time,” he said.
He said OMV shifts staff to offices that are experiencing high wait times, and he said the agency is expanding a pilot program using outside contractors to handle driver’s license renewals to reduce the time in line.
“We are responding to those offices where time periods are lengthy and people are complaining,” Edmonson said.
The motor vehicles agency had 739 workers in 2009. It dropped to 568 four years later, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office review, written by analyst Matthew Labruyere.
Edmonson said to deal with tighter budgets, he’s cut positions through attrition, declining to fill spots as people quit or retired. The budget cuts have hit all state agencies over the last five years as Louisiana grappled with repeated financial shortfalls.
The fiscal office analysis says that wait times at small OMV offices averaged 8 minutes in 2009, 9 minutes at medium-sized offices and 16 minutes at larger offices. By 2013, those waits had ballooned to average of 45 minutes, 65 minutes and 90 minutes respectively.
At the main Baton Rouge motor vehicles office, transactions were handled quickly Thursday morning. Geneva McCray said she waited less than 10 minutes to renew her driver’s license.
“I was expecting to wait all day, but you in and out today,” she said.
The wait times depend on the day and time, said Will Garner, a retiree who sells pralines outside of the Baton Rouge motor vehicles office several days a week.
“Monday is a rough day. Friday is rough, I mean rough. And don’t let it be a holiday,” Garner said. “And it piles up after lunch.”
OMV is rolling out a program that allows a public tag agent — a private business that processes vehicle title registrations — to also renew state driver’s licenses, for up to an extra $18 fee.
The program is up and running in Baton Rouge and Metairie, and Edmonson’s office said 15 more locations will be available by mid-February, including in Bossier City, Slidell, Hammond, Mandeville, Alexandria, Houma, Lafayette and Springhill. Another 11 locations are planned to be offering driver’s license renewals by the end of April.
The Office of Motor Vehicles also is exploring the idea of starting self-service kiosks at its locations, so people don’t have to wait in line for certain types of transactions.
Louisiana offers many types of motor vehicle transactions online, with no need to visit a state office, but few people seem to be choosing that option.
“I don’t know why people don’t do that more,” Edmonson said. “Well over 75 percent of people who go into OMV office on a given day could do it online.”