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THE WAIT GOES ON : Long Lines Continue at DMV Offices Despite Appointments, Computers

February 05, 1989|ALAN C. MILLER | Times Staff Writer

Linda Haim, a Northridge social worker, had taken the morning off from her job to renew her driver's license and car registration at the state Department of Motor Vehicles office in Van Nuys.

After a frustrating 1 1/2 hours--including 55 minutes in a slow-moving line for her written license test--she left with only her temporary driver's license and frayed nerves.

"Ridiculous," Haim fumed. "I'll have to come back."

Haim's experience is hardly unique. Despite the much-heralded statewide computerization and adoption of an appointment system four years ago, residents are still creeping along in DMV lines that seem to mirror freeway gridlock. Officials acknowledge that an occasional patron even passes out in the process.

The average waiting times in San Fernando Valley offices are well above the statewide averages, according to DMV figures. In addition, those who want to bypass the lines by making appointments often are deterred by multiple busy signals and recorded messages.

'Growth in Population'

"I don't think the advantages we have in automation have kept up with the growth in population," said Yolanda Ericsson, who manages the Canoga Park office. "We cannot accommodate all of the customers."

While acknowledging that the ideal of no waiting remains utopian, DMV officials still maintain that some things have improved and that further progress is expected this year.

Those who are able to use the appointment system can dramatically reduce waiting time. Express boxes in DMV offices provide a 48-hour turnaround for those who drop off their forms, officials say.

Computers have allowed the oft-maligned agency to cut in half the amount of time that it takes to process driver's licenses and titles. This used to take 60 to 90 days; it now takes four weeks, said Diane Ward, Van Nuys office manager.

Moreover, the DMV opened an office in North Hollywood in November and plans to open two more--in Reseda and Simi Valley--later this year, a substantial increase in the number of Valley-area offices. DMV officials say this reflects the seriousness of local bureaucratic congestion and their determination to relieve it.

To speed the process, the DMV is leasing the new offices from businesses or individuals rather than building them, DMV spokesman William Gengler said. This has reduced planning, budgeting and construction time from as long as five years to six to eight months.

The Valley area was chosen for two of the 16 offices scheduled to be opened statewide this year because it has experienced an influx of residents, particularly immigrants, in recent years. Last year's federal amnesty program for illegal immigrants significantly increased the number of those seeking licenses and vehicle registrations, officials said.

The Van Nuys office, for example, had a 29% jump in driver's license applications in 1988, Ward said.

The impact is visible at each of the Valley offices, where long lines are dominated by Latinos. At the Arleta office, consumers speak Spanish more frequently than English.

The new facilities will reduce the driving time for those who live near them. But here too, there is a downside. Due to budget constraints, staff members are being transferred from existing offices to the new branches. The Arleta office, where the driver's license line sometimes stretches out the front door, will lose five of its 50 employees to the Reseda office.

"This should take some of the load off an office that is overburdened now," Gengler said. "Our offices are still able to function effectively."

Figures for average waiting times indicate that consumers can avoid the DMV blues by making an appointment. Appointments for a written or behind-the-wheel license test or registration usually can be made at Valley offices within one to 10 days, officials say.

Statewide, the average wait for transactions without appointments was 14 minutes in November, the most recent period for which figures were available. The average wait for those with appointments throughout California was 4.2 minutes.

The time logged in the Los Angeles region--which had average waits of 18.6 minutes for no appointments and 5.4 minutes for appointments--was the highest in the state.

The figures for three offices surveyed by The Times last week generally were higher than the statewide average and, in some instances, well above the Los Angeles numbers.

For the Van Nuys office, the average wait for those without appointments was 24 minutes for the license test and 22 minutes for registrations, Ward said. The longest waits were 55 and 40 minutes, respectively. The same day, those with driver's license or registration appointments waited two to three minutes.

The numbers were similar for Arleta and Canoga Park. The shortest average wait at any of the offices was 17 minutes for a driver's license test at Canoga Park. During peak periods at Arleta, the average wait for a license test was 41 minutes.

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