DMV lines linger

It was just a little after 9 a.m. this past Saturday and the line at the Caton Hill Road DMV office was already extending around the facade of the brick building in Woodbridge as drivers rushed to make transactions prior to the end of the month.

DMV has been short of employees and office space in recent months as offices were closed (then opened) while workers received pink slips. It was all a part of balancing Virginia’s budget which has fallen victim to anemic revenue growth in recent years.

If the scene in Woodbridge is sad, what’s happening just up the road in Springfield is a travesty. A DMV office located within Springfield Mall regularly features lines that disrupt shoppers as they walk from Target toward the food court. The lines are so long, few people can distinguish where they begin or end.

Lines at DMV would not be so frustrating if the service provided was voluntary. But state law requires Virginians to hold a valid state driver’s license and drive a vehicle with current registration and tags. Long lines in the private sector often spur customers to flee to different businesses where service is more prompt. That’s not the case in Northern Virginia where lines at DMV are beginning to resemble the bread lines of Eastern Europe during the cold war.

The General Assembly was able to fund and reopen most of those closed offices during the latest round of budget cuts though one in Northern Virginia lost its lease. But the long lines reveal a tougher problem. The lines are a symptom of too many drivers and too few open windows at our DMV offices or too few DMV offices in general.

With no money to fund an increase in new employees or new offices, the lines will continue to grow. This, despite the mail and online options offered by DMV. One thing’s for sure, the number of drivers in Northern Virginia will continue to outpace customer service representatives at DMV.

This is a quagmire that’s not a pretty sight for lawmakers heading into this fall’s legislative elections. We’re sure candidates incumbents and challengers will offer solutions to the customer logjam. If any candidate has ideas to solve this problem, we’re all ears.

One solution you will never see lawmakers take seriously is privatization. Putting DMV services up for bid in every region of the commonwealth might solve some problems. No contractor would want to have a poor customer service record if that contract must be renewed on a regular basis. This idea, however, is pie in the sky considering the fact that state lawmakers are too afraid to privatize something as simple as the state liquor monopoly.

Still, the long lines at DMV will only rankle voters come Election Day. It just depends on how many voters will have to do business with DMV between now and November. Of course, we also wonder how many lawmakers have to visit the DMV this year. Those who have business with them should try to conduct their business at Springfield. It would be an eye-opening experience.

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