If you visited a North Carolina driver’s license office last summer, chances are you have a horror story to tell about the experience.
Lines of people began snaking around buildings at 7 a.m., in attempts to beat the hours-long wait times that plagued offices across the state. By August, the N.C. Department of Transportation had put out a call for volunteers to hand out water bottles to people wait outside in the heat.
But this June waits have dropped significantly at Charlotte area driver’s license offices.
During the first week of last June, N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles data show the average wait time at the Huntersville driver’s license office was an hour and a half — not including the time spent waiting to get a ticket to be in line. Wait times at the east Charlotte office averaged 55 minutes, and the south Charlotte office averaged 43 minutes.
During the first week of this month, the average wait time at the Huntersville office had dropped to 47 minutes; at the east Charlotte office, it was 23 minutes; at the south Charlotte office, it was 26 minutes.
This time of year is “peak season” for the DMV, typically May 15 to Labor Day, as the summer brings an annual flood of people relocating and students applying for a license or permit while school is out. But last summer was especially busy following the introduction of REAL ID.
DMV Commissioner Torre Jessup said that in looking forward to peak season this year, the department made an effort to improve efficiency in driver’s license offices across the state, starting with 29 of the total 113 offices.
In fact, Charlotte resident Clarence Leak Sr. said his visit to a driver’s license office put him in a better mood. He guessed it took about five minutes to get a temporary handicap placard issued, joking that he “spent more time socializing than getting business done.”
“I’ve been in Charlotte for 34 years, and I’ve never seen it flow so well,” Leak said. “... Usually, you would go to the DMV and they’re callous and cold and act like they ate dog food for breakfast, but this was a pleasant experience.”
What’s behind the improvement?
The north Charlotte driver’s license office, located near UNC Charlotte at 9711 David Taylor Drive, opened in March. It’s the fifth full-time driver’s license office in Mecklenburg County, and is the largest in the state.
NCDOT also spent $2.9 million to bring in the Boston Consulting Group for an assessment of the offices with the longest wait times in the state and then develop and test strategies for the DMV to implement statewide.
Among the strategies was a new measurement tool: self-assessment scorecards for driver’s license examiners. The scorecards measure examiners’ performance based on how long it takes them to complete each kind of service and how much of their time is spent behind a desk doing examinations.
Examiners then sit down with their managers to go over their performance and identify the cause of any bad scores.
Jessup said these self-assessments have been crucial in helping the DMV identify and fix inefficiencies. He said those wasted seconds in a transaction, such as scanning documents one at a time instead of all at once, compound into the sometimes hours-long wait times.
Over the course of the pilot period for these strategies, March 3-22, the average wait time at the test offices dropped 40%, from 51 minutes to 30 minutes.
How you can reduce your wait time
Jessup offered several tips to reduce your wait at DMV offices:
- Make an appointment by calling the DMV Customer Contact Center at 919-715-7000.
- Avoid peak times. Offices are typically the busiest on Mondays or Fridays, especially from around 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., according to DOT spokesperson Jamie Kritzer. He advised coming on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, saying the earlier you can get there, the better.
- Conduct your business online when possible. For people who just need to renew their license or get a duplicate and do not have any medical restrictions, Jessup advised doing that online instead of coming in to an office.
- Before you come in to upgrade from your normal license to REAL ID , make sure you actually need one. If you already have a passport, or if you don’t need to travel on a commercial airline or access a federal facility, you do not need REAL ID.
- Wait until the fall to come in. Jessup encouraged people to wait until after Labor Day to come in to get their REAL ID if possible, noting that the new federal ID standards don’t go into effect until Oct. 1, 2020.